PITTSBURGH (AP) — Michael Young spent his first three seasons at Pittsburgh firmly planted in the post, his back to the basket and the defender at his mercy. It made for a seemingly never-ending string of double-doubles but did little to boost his prospects as a professional. So Young spent the first 20 games of his senior year loitering at the 3-point line, showcasing an improved jump shot, one that also left the Panthers vulnerable in the lane.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Michael Young spent his first three seasons at Pittsburgh firmly planted in the post, his back to the basket and the defender at his mercy.
It made for a seemingly never-ending string of double-doubles but did little to boost his prospects as a professional. So Young spent the first 20 games of his senior year loitering at the 3-point line, showcasing an improved jump shot, one that also left the Panthers vulnerable in the lane.
No more. Young is back where he once belonged, and Pittsburgh's nightmarish season may be on the verge of a full-fledged turnaround.
Young scored 21 points — almost all of them within a few feet of the basket — grabbed nine rebounds and finished with six assists during an 80-75 victory over Syracuse on Saturday that offered solid proof the Panthers have not quit on each other or first-year coach Kevin Stallings.
"Before the North Carolina game (on Jan. 31), I watched film with the coaches," Young said. "They weren't upset with me but I understood that for the team I needed to sacrifice myself. Being down (in the post) as much as possible makes it easier to kick out (for 3-pointers)."
Ones that Cam Johnson knocked down with regularity. The sophomore finished with a game-high 22 points thanks to six 3-pointers, the final one coming from the right wing with 2:50 left that gave Pitt (14-11, 3-9 ACC) a 71-61 lead Syracuse never really threatened to take away.
"The one guy we were worried about was Johnson and we wanted to get up on him and we lost him," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "That was the biggest problem for us in the game."
The Panthers avenged an 11-point loss to the Orange last month by relying heavily on Young inside and Johnson outside against Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Pitt outrebounded the Orange 41-25 and answered every time Syracuse made a push late. The Panthers have won two straight following eight consecutive losses that left the program rattled.
Syracuse (16-10, 8-5) had the ball down four with less than a minute to go but Tyler Lydon committed Syracuse's 10th and final turnover as the Orange saw their five-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt.
"These guys fight hard," Boeheim said. "Down 11-12 points, we kept coming back at it. We forced some turnovers. We did a good job in the press but did just a little too much ground to make up."
Andrew White and John Gillon led Syracuse with 20 points each. Lydon scored just eight points, all in the second half.
Tyus Battle, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer beat Clemson on Tuesday, played just 15 minutes and scored only three points while battling an illness. The Orange never led after the Panthers put together a 16-5 first-half that propelled them to a 35-28 lead at the break.
Syracuse took a 28-point first lead in a 77-66 victory over the Panthers at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 7. Pitt stressed the importance of a better start in the rematch. The Orange started 7 of 9 from the field but went just 4 of 17 the rest of the half after what Stallings called his team's best 12 minutes of defense on the season.
Boeheim didn't argue.
"Today I thought they were better defensively against us than I've seen," Boeheim said. "Part of that is we didn't attack them every well."
All five of Pitt's starters played at least 35 minutes and the Panther bench didn't record a point. Yet, Pitt survived anyway behind 14 points and 11 rebounds from Sheldon Jeter, 16 points and 10 assists by Jamel Artis and 20-of-24 shooting at the free-throw line.
Asked if the Panthers can keep it going while having the starting five carry such a heavy workload, Young shrugged and replied "that's the plan."
Syracuse: For all the momentum generated by the five-game surge, the Orange likely need a little more magic down the stretch to assure themselves of an NCAA Tournament berth. Syracuse won't lack for opportunities. The Orange play Duke once and Louisville twice before the end of the regular season.
Pitt: While his players believe there's a chance they can win out and still reach the NCAAs, Stallings isn't quite ready to go that far down the road.
Syracuse: Begins difficult closing stretch when No. 4 Louisville visits Monday.
Pitt: Welcomes Virginia Tech on Tuesday. The teams have split their four meetings since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2013.
Follow Will Graves on Twitter @WillGravesAP