CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Pitt proves once again its home is a bottomless pit for opponents

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PITTSBURGH -- I could sit at this computer and go through all the reasons why No. 3 Syracuse lost to No. 5 Pittsburgh late Monday here at the Petersen Events Center, just list them one by one. I could write about Kris Joseph's absence because of a concussion, the terrible rebounding margin and the huge hole dug in the opening minutes, and I could do it all with great detail. But, let's be honest, that's mostly a waste of time when the truth is so much simpler.

Why did Syracuse lose to Pitt at the Pete?

Because Syracuse played Pitt at the Pete.

That's the bottom line. You play Pitt at Pete, you lose. You're better off challenging Johnny to a fiddle-playing contest in Georgia.

"The Zoo really helps us out a lot," Pitt forward Gilbert Brown said in reference to the famed student section at the Pete after helping the Panthers to a 74-66 win in front of a record crowd of 12,925. "There is a reason why we're so tough to play at home."

How tough?

Pitt is now 145-11 all-time at the Petersen Events Center, 9-0 against top five opponents. Seriously, 9-0 against top five opponents. What that suggests is that it doesn't really matter whether the Panthers have Julius Page and Brandin Knight, Carl Krauser and Chevon Troutman, Aaron Gray and Mike Cook, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair or Ashton Gibbs and Gary McGhee. Whatever the roster, regardless of the circumstances, when you enter the Petersen Events Center with a top five ranking you exit with a loss. No exceptions. So while it would've been nice if Syracuse was at full strength, odds are the outcome would've been the same with or without Joseph.

Even Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse team lost here by double digits.

And that team won the national championship.

And that team didn't fall behind 19-0.

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"It was the first time in my career that we got off to a start like that," said Pitt's Brad Wanamaker, at which point I started thinking about my career, too. I cover college basketball games for a living. I go to games every week and watch them on television every day, and I can tell you that the start to this game also represented a first for me. I mean, I've seen big starts. But I've never seen a 19-0 run from the home team to start a game followed by a 17-0 run from the visiting team, never seen a score go from 0-0 to 19-0 to 19-17 in the opening 14 minutes.

It was silly, stupid and wildly entertaining.

Still, somehow, the score was tied 41-41 with less than 13 minutes remaining, and that's when it looked like things might be in doubt. But then Travon Woodall sank a 3-pointer to make it 44-41, and the score was never tied again. The Panthers spent the next eight minutes pulling away. A 24-12 run turned 41-41 into 65-53. The only questions down the stretch were whether the Orange would cover the plus-six spread (they did not), and what Jamie Dixon said to earn his first technical foul this season.

"I raised my arms," Dixon said. "But I didn't say anything."

This is true, by the way.

"He just called the ref over and pointed to the scoreboard to show it was eight-to-three in fouls [against Pittsburgh]," Wanamaker said. "That's what the ref told me, and I asked him if he was kidding. But he said coach can't do that."

Apparently not.

But can you blame Dixon for trying?

The guy is practically invincible in this arena, which is why the Panthers will likely win the Big East regular-season title and probably earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. You might get them on the road or even downtown at the Consol Energy Center, where Tennessee dealt Pitt its lone loss this season. But trying to beat the Panthers at the Pete is among the great challenges in all of college basketball.

The games can start a bunch of different ways.

Even with runs of 19-0 and 17-0 by different teams.

But barring something strange, they always end the same.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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