Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, with another late game masterpiece, is starting to remind people of a guy named Jerry West, who went by the nickname Mr. Clutch.
Something kind of magical is happening in Upstate New York. To go without a loss in any sport, you need to be very good but also a little lucky. I for one do not want the Syracuse Orange to go undefeated. It is not the unblemished full season record that concerns me. I grew up in Rochester listening to their games on the radio when I was supposed to be asleep, and I’m glad they’re doing well. But for a lifelong fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels, the idea of a Big East team going unbeaten in their first foray in the storied ACC’s regular season is really quite intolerable. Yet before Wednesday night’s game against Pittsburgh, the #1 Orange (23-0) had only eight more league games to win in order to do just that. The Pitt game was going to be one of maybe two or three legitimate tests left for Syracuse. (Pittsburgh felt they should have won a few weeks ago up in the Carrier Dome). Coach Boeheim’s group still must visit Duke on February 22, where the Blue Devils and their fans will be absolutely rabid hosting a rematch of this year’s best college basketball game, a 91-89 OT loss for Duke in January. It may be one of the only times in my life when I will be pulling for a Duke victory. Then there’s a March trip to Charlottesville to play a UVA team that should at least challenge the Orange, but that’s it. Sure, inferior teams sometimes beat superior ones (Chaminade anybody?), but Syracuse is simply much better than any of the other five remaining teams on their schedule, and they play three of them at home. An undefeated conference season is a real possibility.
Pittsburgh was 9-0 all-time at their home Petersen Center versus teams ranked in the top five. That’s an impressive record, and it looked almost certain to improve to 10-0 last night with the Panthers leading by a point with 4.4 seconds to play and Syracuse inbounding under their own basket. It had been a low scoring, defensively intense, Big East kind of affair, and finally, the ‘Cuse was going to lose a game. Yet in a dire moment of neglect, Pittsburgh failed to deny Syracuse’s preternaturally calm freshman point guard, Tyler Ennis, the ball. Apparently, along with not practicing their free throws, Pitt has also not been reading ESPN’s college basketball statistics. According to the site, Ennis is scoring an astonishing 1.94 points per play with six assists and zero turnovers in the final five minutes of his team’s games. “Clutch” stats for the nation’s more highly touted freshmen–Duke’s Jabari Parker, Julius Randle from Kentucky, and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins–don’t even come close. Ennis received the inbounds and did this at the buzzer to keep the cipher in the Syracuse loss column. Syracuse 58, Pittsburgh 56. Sure you have to be a little lucky, but you also have to be very good. // Rick Boomer