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PITTSBURGH – Seven games separate No. 1 Syracuse from an undefeated regular season. Maybe it will be a lucky seven after a buzzer-beater kept the Orange on the course to perfection.
Tyler Ennis took the inbounds pass with 4.4 seconds left and dribbled up court, weaving through Pitt's defense. He had the option of shooting or passing to Trevor Cooney.
The freshman guard decided to shoot.
It was the right decision.
Ennis made a 35-footer at the buzzer and Syracuse remained unbeaten with a 58-56 victory over No. 25 Pitt on Wednesday night.
"I saw someone ran over to Trevor and I just had to beat one guy," Ennis said. "I knew they weren't going to let Trevor get it. I just had to get some space. I knew I could get open for a second."
Pitt senior forward Talib Zanna called it a "lucky" shot. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim disagreed.
"It's a little lucky, but I didn't hear Duke saying they were lucky when they drove the length of the court and made an off-balance 3 to tie the game," Boeheim said, alluding an overtime victory for his team over the Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1. "I didn't hear anybody say they were lucky. You have to do it. You have to make the play. The ball goes in. That's not luck. He took the shot and he made the shot. He didn't throw it up from half court or three-quarters court. He dribbled it up. He had a purpose. He got up in the air and took a good shot, and it went in. It happens sometimes, but he was poised to do it."
Poise under pressure is a good way to describe Syracuse this season. The Orange (24-0, 11-0 ACC) and Wichita State are the lone undefeated teams in Division I.
The road to a perfect 31-0 regular season is not easy for Syracuse, however. After home games against North Carolina State and Boston College, the Orange have three consecutive road games, including trips to No. 8 Duke and No. 17 Virginia.
Zanna, who led Pitt (20-5, 8-4) with 16 points and 14 rebounds, hit two free throws after being fouled on a layup attempt to give the Panthers a 56-55 lead before Ennis' winner.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called a timeout after the free throws to set his defense. That also allowed Syracuse to draw up a play designed for its fearless freshman.
"We guarded it about as well as you could guard it," Dixon said. "He made about a 40-footer. We did what we were supposed to do. If we had to do it again. ... We did the right things.
"They were going to get a shot off. He made it, and he made a tough one. We knew he'd have the ball and would be the guy. We had two guys on him. He hit the shot. Our guys defended, and he hit a shot."
It was Pitt's first loss at home to a top-five team in the 12-year history of the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers had been 9-0 against top-five teams and 13-1 against teams ranked in the top 10.
C.J. Fair led Syracuse with 14 points.
Pitt had a 54-48 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining, but Fair made a 3-pointer with 1:40 to go. He then hit a jumper to make it 54-53 with 51 seconds left. After Pitt missed on the other end, Ennis made two free throws with 10 seconds left to give the Orange the lead.
"C.J. hadn't hit a 3 all game. He hadn't hit the rim, and he makes a 3 and then he hits a pretty tough pull-up to give us a chance," Boeheim said. "Those were big plays and you have to be a special player to make those plays."
Pitt led 27-24 at halftime and built its lead to nine in the early stages of the second half when Lamar Patterson made a 3-pointer to make it 37-28 with 15 minutes remaining.
Syracuse stormed back with a 17-8 run and tied it on Cooney's 3-pointer with 6:53 to go, but Pitt regained control after Zanna converted a three-point play and freshman Jamel Artis sank two free throws for a 50-45 lead.
But it was all Syracuse after that. Pitt's only points in the final 1:59 came from Zanna's two free throws, and the Panthers were outscored 10-3 in the final 1:59.
Syracuse had to play without backup center Baye Moussa Keita, who sat out with a sprained knee. That forced sophomore forward Jerami Grant into duty as the backup center behind Rakeem Christmas.
Pitt had injury issues of its own. Senior forward and leading scorer Lamar Patterson had his right thumb wrapped for a second consecutive game. After going 1 for 9 in his previous outing against Virginia Tech, Patterson scored 13 points.