PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jim Boeheim doesn't believe in midseason evaluations. The Syracuse coach knows it doesn't matter. All everyone remembers is how it ends.
That being said, Boeheim does know one thing: the Orange are pretty good when Frank Howard is hitting shots the way he did in Saturday's 65-56 victory over Pittsburgh.
With leading scorer Tyus Battle struggling, Howard scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half — including a pair of 3-pointers during a decisive 16-5 run — as Syracuse (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) swept the season series from the Panthers.
Howard missed four games at the beginning of the season with back injury but the senior guard has picked it up recently. He collected 16 points in an upset of then top-ranked Duke last month and is averaging 11.1 points in conference play.
"I know we're a lot better than we were when Frank didn't play earlier in the year," Boeheim said. "Without him we don't win this game."
Pitt (12-10, 2-7) had trimmed a 16-point deficit to just 39-36 in the second half the Orange responded behind Howard and Oshae Brissett. Brissett, who led the Syracuse with 18 points, started the Orange's surge with a pair of free throws then later collected an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Howard, who calmly hit a 3-pointer from the corner.
Howard nailed another 3 on Syracuse's ensuing possession as the Orange pushed their advantage to 55-41 with 8:02 to go. Pitt never got closer than seven the rest of the way as Syracuse improved to 4-1 on the road in the ACC a season after just going 3-6 away from the Carrier Dome in league play.
"This is a different team, you see that," Howard said. "Tonight is a prime example of that. It could be anybody's night."
Syracuse needed it to be anybody's night with Battle going just 2 of 13 from the floor on his way to six points, 12 below his season average. Ultimately, it didn't matter.
"That's what I'm most happy about," Battle said. "You never know when nights like this are going to happen and for us to come out here and get a pretty solid win in a hostile environment in the ACC is pretty impressive."
Brissett used his 6-foot-8 frame to get into the lane with relative ease while making 6 of 9 shots from the floor and added a game-high 12 rebounds.
"I stayed aggressive the whole game, I never let up," Brissett said. "Coach was calling my number and every time he did I felt like I was able to get a bucket for him."
Terrell Brown scored a season-high 16 points for Pitt. Xavier Johnson scored 14 points to go with six assists and five rebounds but the Panthers dropped their fifth straight. Pitt shot 32 percent (18 of 57) and made only 5 of 22 3-pointers, giving the Orange little reason to extend their 2-3 zone defense.
"At times we played really good offensively," first-year Panthers coach Jeff Capel said. "We've just got to do it for 40 minutes."
Syracuse suffocated the Panthers for large portions of their 74-63 victory on Jan. 19 as Pitt struggled to generate any sort of offense outside of Jared Wilson-Frame and Johnson.
Two weeks later and 360 miles to the southwest, it was more of the same. Wearing gold retro jerseys and playing in front of a sellout crowd that included former program luminaries like Billy Knight and Chevy Troutman, the Panthers looked tentative at times and overwhelmed at others. By the time Pitt found its footing early in the second half, the Panthers were in a hole they couldn't find their way out of.
"Adversity is something you have to go through," Capel said.
MCGOWENS IN A FUNK
The Panthers upset Louisville and Florida State last month thanks in large part to the play of freshman guard Trey McGowens, scoring at least 30 points in the victories. McGowens has cooled off significantly since. He finished with three points against the Orange and missed all five shots from the field and is averaging just 7.2 points over his last five games.
"He just needs to play better," Capel said. "And he will."
Syracuse: The Orange have the proper ingredients to be a threat in the ACC into March. The fact they could survive on a day when Battle or second-leading scorer Elijah Hughes (five points) couldn't generate much of anything is tangible proof they're developing the kind of depth they'll need down the road.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers need Brown to show more of the assertiveness he showed offensively in the second half if they ever want opponents to stop playing zone against them. Brown scored 14 of his 16 points over the final 20 minutes, most of them on dunks after he got position inside.
Syracuse: Hosts Florida State on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Pittsburgh: Visits Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7 p.m.