Well, that was disappointing. Really, the whole day wound up being disappointing, and not just for the stuff that happened on the court. The Syracuse Orange dropped a 65-61 game against Pittsburgh, falling to 17-10 overall and losing their best shot – on paper, anyway – of a win over this final stretch of the 2014-2015 season.
By now, you’ve no doubt read countless recaps of the game, so there’s not much of a point in rehashing the details of how Syracuse lost, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still take a few minutes to talk about some of the troubling aspects of the loss. Officiating, and it can’t really be denied at this point considering there’s actual video evidence, did Syracuse no favors. The referees were pretty poor going both ways, but in the final minute with the Orange frantically trying to mount a comeback, the officials dropped the ball.
First came the moving screen that might have been a foul, or might not have – but was a play that hadn’t been called all day long for either team. So to call a somewhat questionable moving screen on Rakeem Christmas in the waning moments, with Syracuse down 61-60 and 39 seconds left, was an absolute back breaker. Follow that up with the final play of the game, in which video replays clearly showed Pitt’s James Robinson not just travel, but also step out of bounds with the Panthers leading 63-61, and resulting in a layup for Cameron Wright to put the game away with only 17 seconds remaining.
But obviously, the officiating wasn’t the only reason that Syracuse lost. The Orange did themselves no favors by coming out as cold as could be, shooting just 28% from the field in the first half. Trevor Cooney continued his dismal stretch, going 0-for-5 overall and 0-for-4 from three. Going back to the Louisville game, Cooney has now missed his last 13 three point attempts. Now, it seems pretty clear that Cooney is battling some nagging injuries, and in fact disappeared into the locker room yesterday to get his back worked on.
What continues to confound, with that in mind, is the fact that even with so few games left in the season, and Cooney playing so poorly, he keeps getting trotted back out there to play virtually every minute of every game. Yesterday Cooney played 32 minutes, and that’s basically only because he had to be taken back to the locker room for treatment. When a player is banged up, and not performing his one assigned task – shooting the ball and putting points on the board – what’s the purpose of keeping him on the floor for so many minutes?
Obviously, Syracuse doesn’t have much depth this season, particularly at the guard position. Kaleb Joseph hasn’t performed as well as many had hoped, and that limits the guard rotation since rather than sitting Cooney and playing Joseph alongside Michael Gbinije in the backcourt, Gbinije is stuck playing either the small forward, or the point guard, despite the fact that shooting guard is probably his best natural position. The lack of development from Buss Patterson and BJ Johnson for most of this season certainly hasn’t helped, either.
Now, in fairness, that brings me to my next point. The silver lining for yesterday was the solid play of both Buss and, in particular, BJ Johnson. Johnson finally got his shot falling against a quality opponent, finishing with 11 points and hitting 3-of-4 three pointers. Johnson and Patterson combined for 20 points, easily one of the best bench contributions of the season. The pair combined to sink 7-of-10 field goals.
There are four games left in the season, three against highly ranked teams in Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia. The trip to NC State won’t exactly be a cakewalk, either, with the Wolfpack sitting at 16-11 and having beaten both Duke and Louisville this season, while also defending their home court. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see the Orange fall in each of the last four games, as much as we’d like to hope they won’t.
Despite a strong effort from Rakeem Christmas, who scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds and was continually pounded by the Pitt defenders, rarely getting the benefit of any calls from the officials, the Orange couldn’t come away with what, again, was their best shot to earn another victory this season. Instead, the Orange were beaten – and in the case of Tyler Roberson, bloodied – and swept by Jamie Dixon’s club.
It’s a disappointing result following the team’s best game of the season, with the win over Louisville. The poor, ice cold, and all around sluggish start showed early on that this game had “letdown” written all over it. It’s kind of amazing that the Orange were able to fight back and put themselves in position to steal the win at the end, and even more amazing that it was in that final minute that the referees decided to insert themselves into the action, calling the moving screen on Christmas and failing to see Robinson step out of bounds and travel, taking away the final two chances for the Orange in the process.