first_imgPITTSBURGH –– The unimaginable 17-0 run stunned the record crowd of 12,925 in the Petersen Events Center. For the Oakland Zoo — the deafening Pittsburgh student section — raucous became reticent.‘We made as good a comeback as you’re probably going to make,’ Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said.It wasn’t enough.A team-defining comeback, a comeback for the ages, was never completed. Syracuse never led in its 74-66 loss to Pittsburgh. An Orange team roared back from a 19-0 deficit to start the game with a 17-0 run of its own. But without its leading scorer, Kris Joseph, the 66-54 Syracuse run after the horrid start proved to be short.Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson’s 21 points muscled the Panthers (18-1, 6-0 Big East) to a win in a battle of Big East heavyweights. It was the early exploitation of the middle of SU’s lauded 2-3 zone that helped the Panthers off to the 19-0 start.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSU (18-1, 5-1) fought, but its defense continually allowed those physical body blows to its 2-3 zone for the rest of the game. Still, Orange point guard Scoop Jardine felt his team made a statement.‘We were right there,’ Jardine said. ‘And that is one thing — we are going to take credit from this loss.’Credit is due. After eight minutes, the game felt lost. Then came the improbable comeback. SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins danced on the sideline to sustain and spur SU’s 2-3 zone. It began because of a lone Scoop Jardine 3-pointer, eight minutes after the game started, a shot Jardine said he knew he was taking as he dribbled up the court. It thrived thanks to two Syracuse freshmen, C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters, who fortified Syracuse with half of the team’s initial 24 first-half points.And it came out of nowhere. In the most ominous of situations, perhaps, any college basketball team has faced all year. In the Panthers sold-out house, where it has never lost a single game to a top-five team. The house Brad Wanamaker said was at its loudest ever Monday night. Without its injured star player in Joseph.But with a sudden jolt of heady team-ball, Syracuse did the unthinkable: clawed back in the Zoo and made what was quickly becoming a laugher into a game again. SU reeled off those 17 unanswered points, silencing the crowd.‘These kids showed a lot of heart,’ Hopkins said. ‘Playing without our leading scorer Kris, the way these guys battled.’Without Joseph, the Orange made a lost situation become a legendary first half. Syracuse trailed 31-27 at halftime. The Orange tied the game at 41-41 with 13:52 left, thanks to a 3-pointer by Joseph’s replacement, James Southerland.Alas, it wasn’t enough. The hole SU dug was too deep for Fair’s team-high 16 points to help the Orange completely come out from. Jardine’s cold-blooded 3-pointer to put SU on the board for the first time with a little under 12 minutes left in the first half — and his clutch barrage of second-half 3s — were for naught. And a suffocating late-game press was unleashed too late.‘Every time we were knocking at the door, we just couldn’t get over the hump,’ Jardine said. ‘Down three. Down one. Down three. Tied.’Lost was never found. The Panthers ripped apart the heart of the SU zone with 24 first-half points in the paint.But the Orange soon found its heart. Without Joseph, though, the scoring that was needed wasn’t there for SU. No amount of freshmen magic would get SU to a lead. Never mind a win.And not enough wishing or dancing from Hopkins would claw SU all the way back. With his final jump up on the sidelines, Hopkins turned and spun as Ashton Gibbs hit a 3 to keep the Panthers up nine with 6:33 left. Five two-footed stomps followed from Hopkins.He couldn’t dance or stomp out what Syracuse did to itself. Even if it reclaimed its heart after a start during which the Orange looked lost in the Zoo. Syracuse couldn’t complete the comeback.‘Chalk this up as a great learning experience,’ Hopkins said. ‘This place is as loud as it gets in college basketball.’[email protected] Comments Published on January 16, 2011 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img