SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse was teetering on the brink again against Pittsburgh. This time the top-ranked Orange found a way to win.
Dion Waiters had 16 points and Scoop Jardine had 12 points and 10 assists as Syracuse held off the Panthers 71-63 on Monday night to open the season with 20 straight wins and snap a five-game losing streak to Pittsburgh.
The Orange (20-0, 7-0 Big East) set a school record for most consecutive victories to start a season and it was win No. 876 for coach Jim Boeheim, tying him with Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for fourth place all-time in Division I. North Carolina's Dean Smith is third with 879.
"It's the first time we've beaten Pitt in a while and we got Coach's win to put him up in the ranks," senior forward Kris Joseph said. "It was a great night for us. That's big-time (tying Rupp)."
It was the seventh straight loss for Pittsburgh, which dropped to 0-6 in the Big East.
Pittsburgh had stopped Syracuse's season-opening winning streak at 18 a year ago, and the Panthers seemed poised to do it again. They overcame a 13-0 deficit at the outset and pulled within 53-49 on Talib Zanna's jumper with 53-49 to go.
Syracuse responded as it has all season.
Waiters drove the lane and then dished to a wide-open Joseph on the wing, and he drained a 3-pointer. After John Johnson missed from long range for the only time in the game, Waiters swished a 3 from the left wing and the lead was back to 10.
"You get in these games, you just have to make plays and we did," said Boeheim, who extended his Division I record for most 20-win seasons to 34. "It's not always good to get into these games, but when you do you have to make some plays and make your free throws."
Pittsburgh (11-8, 0-6) never got closer than eight points and could only lament what might have been. Too many missed layups and 11 missed free throws only extended the misery of the Panthers' losing streak.
"We responded well," said Ashton Gibbs, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. "Missing 13 layups isn't acceptable at all. We missed 11 free throws and we lost by eight. I think that was the difference. We make layups and make free throws, we win the game."
Much has been made of Syracuse's depth this season as the Orange, led by Waiters, have consistently outscored the opponent's reserves. On this night, the Panthers' reserves held a 30-25 edge.
"At the end of the day, there were a couple of times where we didn't go as strong to the basket," Gibbs said. "There were a couple of times where we should have dunked the ball instead of trying to go for layups. That's just the learning process of it."
The Panthers were coming off a stunning 62-39 home loss to Rutgers last Wednesday, the fewest points they scored in a regulation game since a 53-30 loss to Temple in 1969.
Cameron Wright and Lamar Patterson also scored 10 points for Pitt, which had won 13 of the past 16 meetings with the Orange. Nasir Robinson, Pitt's second-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game, had four points and missed 6 of 8 free throws.
The Orange are No. 1 for the sixth straight week, matching the longest run in school history set at the start of 1989-90.
Syracuse's last home win against the Panthers was 67-65 on Feb. 1, 2003. Syracuse's last win over Pitt was 65-61 in the 2006 Big East tournament championship game, and its last victory during the regular season was 49-46 in overtime in February 2004 at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt trailed 48-34 with 15:10 left when Jardine hit from the right corner and flashed a smile as he headed back up court. Undaunted, the Panthers came back as they worked the shot clock looking for openings in the Syracuse zone. A 3-pointer by Johnson as the shot-clock buzzer sounded and Dante Taylor's reverse layup had them within nine points in less than 2 minutes.
"We didn't finish," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "In the second half, we finished a little better. We attacked it pretty well, maybe some more penetration out front would have been good for us, but we're still trying to get better in that area. It seemed like we were getting inside touches. We maybe took a few too many 3s, but for the most part we did not settle for 3s."
A 3 by Waiters boosted the lead back to nine, but Johnson hit another 3 and Talib Zanna scored four straight points to move Pitt within 53-49 with 8:36 left.
"We were right there," Gibbs said. "Just those little things are separating us. It's obvious that we're close. We were right there against one of the best teams in the country."
It was Pitt's first game against a top-ranked team in nearly three years. The Panthers brought a 2-13 record in those games into the Carrier Dome, but those two wins came in succession against Connecticut in February and March 2009.
Pittsburgh scored the first 19 points in beating the third-ranked Orange 74-66 at the Petersen Events Center a year ago. The Orange seemed intent on turning the tables in this one, storming to a 13-0 lead as the Panthers missed their first six shots and Melo registered three blocks in the first 4 minutes.
In last year's game, the Orange rallied right back, scoring 17 straight points, and Pitt responded in this one with a 15-6 spurt. A three-point play by Wright after an acrobatic layup and a free throw by Patterson moved Pitt within 19-15 with 7 minutes left in the first half.
Syracuse boosted the lead back to as many as 12 points on Melo's dunk with 2:24 to go and led 35-26 at halftime. The Orange had eight blocks, forced 11 turnovers, and had nine assists on 14-of-27 shooting (51.9 percent) while holding Pitt to 10 of 31 (32.3 percent) from the field.