But instead of fighting for supremacy in their old league, the Big East Conference, the Orange and Panthers were battling for bragging rights in their new league, the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In a game reminiscent of the rough-and-tumble Big East but with first place in the ACC on the line, the No. 2 Orange rallied to defeat the No. 22 Panthers 59-54 before 30,046 fans at the Carrier Dome.
Trailing 52-49, the Orange pulled within one on Jerami Grant's two free throws. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis then took over, with back-to-back layups to make it 55-52 and two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining to give the Orange a 57-54 lead.
At 18-0, the Orange remains one of three unbeaten teams in Division I, along with No. 1 Arizona (17-0) and No. 5 Wichita State (18-0).
Syracuse is 18-0 for the fourth time in school history, matching the start of the 2010-11 team and one win shy of the 1999-2000 team's 19-0 start. The 2011-12 Orange holds the school record by opening the season with 20 consecutive victories.
Pittsburgh fell to 16-2 overall as it suffered its first loss since a 44-43 setback to Cincinnati at the Jimmy V Classic Dec. 17.
Syracuse led 25-21 at halftime and used a 7-0 run early in the second half to boost its advantage to 34-25. Trevor Cooney's 3-pointer in transition highlighted that run, and Ennis' 3-pointer increased the Orange lead to 37-27.
But the Panthers stormed back behind leading scorer Lamar Patterson, who had a quiet first half with four points. Patterson drilled three consecutive 3-point shots, narrowing Syracuse's lead to 39-36 with 13 minutes remaining.
Syracuse increased its lead to six, 46-40, on leading scorer C.J. Fair's three-point play, his first points of the second half. But Patterson's fourth 3-pointer of the second half gave the Panthers their first lead since early in the game, 49-48, and Pittsburgh increased their lead to 52-49 with about four minutes remaining.
With James Robinson collecting two baskets in the paint, the Panthers raced out to a 7-2 lead. But starting with Fair's drive and then a 3-pointer by Fair, the Orange went on a 15-5 run to build a 17-12 advantage.
Grant's thunderous dunk on a rebound boosted Syracuse's lead to 21-15, but the Panthers cut their deficit to two, 23-21, as Patterson started to heat up with a pair of baskets.
The Orange limited the Panthers to 37.5 percent shooting (9-of-24) in the first half. Pittsburgh entered the game leading the ACC in shooting percentage (48.8 percent) and outscoring its opponents by 13.5 points per game. But Syracuse ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense (58.4) and was holding its opponents to 41.4 percent shooting.
NOTES: For several players, Saturday's game was a high school reunion. Syracuse's Jerami Grant and Pittsburgh's James Robinson played together at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., while Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Pittsburgh's Michael Young and Jamel Artis all played at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J. ... Syracuse leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh, 64-39. The Orange has won three of the last four meetings after the Panthers won five consecutive games against the Orange from 2007-11. That five-game win streak ranks as the all-time longest win streak for an opponent at the Carrier Dome. ... Pittsburgh has reached the NCAA Tournament 11 of the last 12 years, a feat surpassed only by Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and matched by Texas. Despite Saturday's loss, the Panthers appear to be a lock for another tournament bid.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun