LAUNCHED INTO HISTORY: Ennis’ 35-foot buzzer-beater against Pitt keeps No. 1 Syracuse undefeated
Joshua Chang | Staff Photographer
PITTSBURGH — For a split second, it appeared Syracuse wouldn’t even be able to inbound the ball trailing Pittsburgh by one with 4.4 seconds left.
Lamar Patterson locked up C.J. Fair at half court as two Pittsburgh defenders straddled Tyler Ennis by the free-throw line.
But then Ennis broke free. He took a pass from Jerami Grant and raced upcourt in four dribbles. After the last — a crossover to split Cameron Wright and Josh Newkirk — he leaped and hoisted a high-arcing heave from about 35 feet.
The 12,935 people in the Petersen Events Center froze in place. The students in the Oakland Zoo, eyes squinting in worry. The Syracuse reserves and coaches, arms locked out in anticipation. Ennis, knees bent as he watched the ball rotate closer and closer toward the rim.
“I don’t think those shots are going to go in, really. I never do,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “But when he shot it, I saw his release and when I saw the ball, I thought it was going in.”
It did. And as the Pitt fans thrashed — some slamming their fists against the hard plastic backings of their seats, others raising their middle fingers toward the court — the Orange bench burst onto the court in jubilation.
Boeheim threw his hands up. Fair raced after his teammates from underneath the hoop. And the hero, Ennis, took off down court yelling incoherently.
“I want to see what I was saying,” Ennis said. “I don’t remember.”
For those who watched the game, it’s hard to remember anything before or after his buzzer-beater went in to give No. 1 Syracuse (24-0, 11-0 Atlantic Coast) its 58-56 win over No. 25 Pitt (20-5, 8-4). For most of the game, it was hard to imagine SU being able to extend its program-best winning streak and earn only its second win in the Pete since it opened in 2002.
But with one shot, the ghosts of Fair’s early air ball and Rakeem Christmas’ potentially disastrous foul only moments earlier disappeared. Patterson’s three 3-pointers — each one sailing seemingly farther than the last — were erased.
A game that Syracuse should have lost becomes remembered by one of the greatest shots in school history and arguably the best in college basketball this season.
“He came up with a play to go down in history,” Fair said. “I think I got hoarse in five seconds from being so excited and happy.”
The shot wouldn’t have been possible without Fair’s 3-pointer and baseline jumper in the final 1:42, or Ennis’ two free throws at the 10.8-second mark. But, it might not have been possible without Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon’s timeout following Talib Zanna’s go-ahead free throw with 4.4 ticks left, either.
The Orange was out of timeouts and Grant, the inbounder, likely would have had a hard time finding a teammate going downcourt.
Instead, SU was able to set up its offensive set — one that ultimately led to the second option being the hero.
“Unlike most coaches, we have never practiced that play,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim told Grant to hit Fair long. But when the referee handed Grant the basketball on the baseline, Patterson was blocking Fair from making his cut to the hoop.
So he made, what he called, the only basketball play he could. He gave his team a sure chance of at least getting a shot up.
“He told me I still should’ve threw it long,” Grant said, “but at the same time Tyler hit his shot, so he couldn’t really say too much.”
Quipped Boeheim: “I just told him that Tyler saved his ass.”
The moment fits right into the almost unbelievable season Syracuse is going through.
It’s won seven of 11 conference games by no more than 10 points, including a comeback win in the team’s first matchup with Pitt and an instant overtime classic against Duke on Feb. 1 that Boeheim called the best game in Carrier Dome history.
The team finds a new way to win any game. And if Ennis’ borderline miraculous shot means anything, it’s that there are more solutions to come.
Said Patterson: “There’s not much you can do about that. It was just meant for them to win.”
Published on February 12, 2014 at 9:37 pm