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ACC action pits Panthers against top-ranked Orange

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Updated: 2/12 9:52 am

Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of familiar foes collide in a Top 25 matchup in the ACC, as the top-ranked Syracuse Orange take to the road to battle the 25th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center.

Jim Boeheim's Orange are one of two unbeaten teams left in the country, with Wichita State being the other. Syracuse is off to its best start in school history at 23-0 and moved to 10-0 in its first season in the ACC with last Saturday's 57-44 victory over Clemson.

Jamie Dixon's Panthers have also seamlessly transitioned to the ACC, as they are 8-3 in their new league, as part of an impressive 20-4 overall mark. Pittsburgh has played with fire the last two outings, winning both in overtime, with wins over Miami-Florida (59-55) and most recently, Virginia Tech (62-57).

Syracuse is seeking the regular season sweep after posting a 59-54 win at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 18. The Orange have won three of the last four meetings, but Pitt has won five straight at the Petersen Events Center in this series.

The Orange continue to frustrate foes with their defensive tenacity and Clemson was no different, as Syracuse held the Tigers to a mere 44 points, on just .341 shooting, including an ugly .273 in the first half. ACC Preseason Player of the Year C.J. Fair once again delivered, leading the Orange with 19 points in the win. Fellow forward Jerami Grant added 12 points to the cause, while Trevor Cooney finished with 11.

Defense is the name of the game for Syracuse, which ranks among the nation's best in scoring defense (seventh nationally), limiting foes to just .407 shooting. The team also takes great care of the basketball, ranking fourth nationally in turnovers (9.2 per game), with an impressive +5.0 turnover margin. The scoring pool is deep, led by Fair's 16.8 ppg. Cooney is the team's resident sniper and adds 14.0 ppg to the mix. Grant (12.8 ppg. 7.0 rpg) adds a second option in the frontcourt, while Tyler Ennis (11.8 ppg, 5.7 apg) can both score and distribute at a high rate.

Pittsburgh is at its best when the team imposes its will on an opponent and that starts with stingy defense as well. The Panthers are holding opponents to a mere 60.1 ppg on just .400 shooting. The team also enjoys a +6.5 rebounding margin and a +2.4 turnover margin. The strength of the unit comes in the frontcourt. Forward Lamar Patterson headlines the team in both scoring (17.2 ppg) and assists (4.5 apg) and is also the squad's best long-range shooter (46-of-113). Center Talib Zanna (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has developed into a quality pivot, shooting an impressive .585 from the floor. Guard Cameron Wright (11.0 ppg) rounds out the top scoring threats.

Wright scored four points to lead the charge in the second overtime session to lead the Panthers to the hard-fought victory over the Hokies. Wright finished with a game-high 18 points in the win. James Robinson added 16 points and JOsh Newkirk chipped in 11, making up for sub par performances for Patterson and Zanna, who combined for just 12 points.

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