WASHINGTON — Cameron Johnson scored a career-high 24 points off the bench as Pittsburgh strengthened its NCAA resume by fending off a late run to beat Syracuse 72-71 in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday.
Johnson and Ryan Luther helped Pitt’s bench outscore Syracuse’s 39-10 to finish a season sweep and deal a significant blow to the Orange’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
After the game was delayed 13 minutes because of shot-clock malfunctions, Pitt (21-10) came back from a cold-shooting start and took over. Syracuse cut its deficit to one point, but Trevor Cooney missed a 3 just before the buzzer.
Michael Gbinije led Syracuse (19-13) with 24 points.
With Pitt ice cold at 5-for-14 shooting including 0 for 5 from 3-point territory, Syracuse jumped out to a 10-point lead with six minutes left in the first half. Then Johnson caught fire, going on a personal 8-0 run with two 3s and two free throws.
Johnson sparked the Panthers on a 15-3 run to close out the first half with a 31-29 lead. Pitt led by as many as 14 points early in the second half before the Orange reeled off eight straight to get back into the game.
A 3-pointer by Jamel Artis gave Pitt a 66-54 lead with just over four minutes remaining. Then Syracuse went on a 14-2 run as Gbinije’s dunk with 1:58 left tied the score at 68.
James Robinson stole the ball from Franklin Howard and went coast-to–coast to give Pitt the lead back at 70-68 and made it a four-point lead with a jumper with 22.2 seconds left. A 3-pointer by Gbinije cut it to 72-71, and Sheldon Jeter missed a free throw to give the ball back to Syracuse with 6.6 seconds remaining.
Pitt forced Cooney into a deep contested three in the closing seconds as the Panthers extended their win streak agaist the Orange to five games. Pitt topped Syracuse three times this season with the first two wins coming by double digits.
BIG EAST FLASHBACK
Former Syracuse big man Derrick Coleman was in attendance wearing Detroit Tigers orange, and the announced “ACC legend” talked about playing Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament. This was the first ACC Tournament meeting for the schools who faced each other six times in the Big East conference tournament.
Normally the last few minutes of a game take forever to play, not the first few. There were eight different shot-clock malfunctions in the opening minutes causing several stoppages and a 13-minute delay before the game got going.
One referee complained that “it keeps unplugging,” and a mobile shot clock was eventually put on each baseline.
Syracuse: Gbinije has scored in double figures all 32 games this season. … The Orange fell to 0-2 all-time in the ACC Tournament after not playing last year because of a self-imposed postseason ban.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers halted an eight-game skid in the month of March dating to their victory in the NCAA Tournament in 2014. … Pitt improved to 20-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points.
Pittsburgh: Faces No. 7 North Carolina in third round Thursday.