In the first half the Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team appeared overmatched against a 1-2 Oakland team that gave up 88 points to Boise State and 90 to Louisiana-Lafayette. Regardless, the Panthers overcame a 14 point at halftime and overall 18 point deficit to win 72-62 in overtime.
J.J. Moore led the Panthers with 16 points while Corey Petros scored 19 points.
To say the Panthers struggled coming out of the gates is an understatement. In the first half of the game, they appeared visably overmatched.
The Panthers offense was mostly stagnant and the defense just could not stop the Golden Grizzlies when they needed to most. Oakland pulled away. They led at the half 34-20. The Panthers had never come back from a deficit that big before.
Steven Adams, James Robinson and Tray Woodall each had two fouls in the first half limiting how effective they could be.
The key of the half was that Oakland was able to neutral and take advantage of things that Pitt has dominated thus far in the season. The Panthers were outscored in the paint 20-8 and Oakland also outpaced the Panthers in points off turnovers 12-3.
Oakland was also able to take and make the three and Travis Bader had a couple of big threes in the first half and had another in the second half as the shot clock expired.
At the break, Woodall tried to piece things together and motivate his guys.
“We tell each other we can’t win a game on one play,” Woodall said. “We needed to keep cutting their lead down, defending and try to get stops. We had to try to get easy baskets. Basically we kept saying we can’t make it on one play.”
The Panthers looked much more alive to start the second half. Talib Zanna scored the Panthers opening four points and led an offensive rebound onslaught, however Duke Mondy responded with a three point basket to keep the sizable Oakland lead.
The Panthers continued to struggle with their free throw shooting and could not avoid making simple mistakes. Trey Ziegler fouled Bader as he shot a three and all three free throws were made. Dante Taylor then fouled as a Golden Grizzlies player made a lay up to add extra momentum. With just under 12 minutes left, the Panthers were down 18 points.
“Those guys fought,” Woodall said. “For the most part they only played six guys and we play ten. We figured eventually it would ware on them but those guys fought so hard. You have to give them credit. They came on our floor and executed. They played really well. Eventually we thought they would break down just by playing six guys. We had fresh legs. We just fought and came out with the win.
Despite these hardships, the Panthers continued to battle. It took Woodall until the 11 minute mark of the second half to drain a three, his first basket of the game and Durand Johnson continued the momentum drilling a three to cut the Oakland lead to 48-36.
Following an Oakland timeout, the Panthers cut into the deficit when J.J. Moore drilled a three and a to that point ineffective Adams thrilled the crowd with a dunk to trail by nine.
The Panthers continued to scratch and claw into the lead as J.J. Moore took a three which he converted and then a couple of plays later made a lay-up and made the free throw after he was fouled. With 2:56 left in regulation, the Panthers trailed 56-49.
With the score 56-51, Robinson drove and converted a lay-up however, the official blew a whistle and not only did the lay-up not count but the Panthers lost possession. The defense stood tall for the next two possessions but Woodall missed a three and the team turned the ball over as the team continued to trail.
The Panthers continued to battle despite trailing 58-52 in the final minute. Dante Taylor came up huge with four points cutting the Oakland lead to two much to the approval of a fired up Oakland Zoo crowd.
“It definitely had an impact,” J.J. Moore said. “Our fans are always there with us. I didn’t see one fan leave. That showed that they had faith in us. They had faith in us when we were losing by 18 and they had faith in us when we were losing by 14 at halftime. They are our sixth man and they bring a spark to us.”
The Panthers set up possession however with 14.7 seconds left Robinson traveled handing the ball back to the Golden Grizzlies. The Grizzlies then made another mistake and Robinson was fouled by Duke Mondy who fouled out with 14 points. Robinson calmly sank both free throws to tie the game.
“I was pretty calm,” Robinson said. “We shoot free throws every day in practice. I just stepped up to the line and made the two free-throws.”
Head Coach Jamie Dixon sometimes has to remind himself that Robinson is a freshman.
“He’s a tremendous player, there’s a reason why we’ve got him out there starting,” Dixon said.He’s got a sense of maturity that’s beyond his years, both physically and mentally. He’s got a strong, physical body; he’s a good athlete, the mental part of it.”
“I go through practice and schemes, jotting down mistakes and watching the film for things we need to improve on for each guy individually, and there’s this little box and every time I look at it there’s James, and it’s empty. It’s just very few mental mistakes. There are just no mental mistakes and that’s so valuable. He understands where to be.
The Grizzlies made another mistake and Ziegler capitalized with a jump ball to give possession to the Panthers but Woodall ran out of time meaning the game would go into overtime.
The Panthers won the tip and quickly got the lead when James Robinson shot a two to beat the buzzer. From there, Taylor made a key two and J.J. Moore buried a three to give Pitt a 67-60 lead.
The Panthers defense stymied Oakland as the Golden Grizzlies were held to just four points in the overtime period. While a lot of it was because Pitt got off to such a fast start, they took themselves out of the game.
From there it was all about filling the rest of the overtime and avoid having a collapse similar to the one Oakland had. All of those fears were put to rest when Taylor received a pass that he converted into a dunk.
The Panthers finished up with a slam as Ziegler dunked to ensure the Panthers victory. The Panthers move to 4-0 on the season.
Up next for the Panthers is a showdown Wednesday at Madison Square Garden against fifth ranked Michigan.
In a press release today the Panthers announced they signed Josh Newkirk and Michael Young to National Letters of Intent.
Newkirk is 6-1 175 pounds and averaged 15.2 ppg last season at Word of God Christian Academy. He is able to play either guard position. The press release calls him ‘quick and athletic’. He committed to the Panthers on twitter and his tweet read “Officially committed to Pitt. Glad to be a part of the family. Hail to Pitt!” The tweet makes him the first Panther to commit on the social media site. The high school he attended was also attended by John Wall. Scout.com ranked Newkirk as the nation’s #70 recruit and #21 point guard. Other schools in the running were Georgia Tech, Memphia, Missouri, Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State and Tennessee.
Young is 6-8 228 lbs and plays forward. He is a consensus top-100 player that attends St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey, although he is a McKeesport, PA native. He averaged 15.9 ppg and 11.6 rpg last season. The press released sites his ‘all-around game who can play in the post, mid-post and perimeter’. He has added range to his game and spent his freshman year of high school at Shadyside Academy in Pittsburgh. ESPN ranked Young as the #56 overall recruit and #14 power forward. Young chose Pitt stating it was the ‘perfect fit’ and was ‘loyal and honest’ in the recruiting process although playing very close to home also was a factor. He received several scholarship offers including Florida, West Virginia, Connecicut, Kansas and Baylor.
Pitt records for this game:
1. The largest halftime deficit ever overcome to win [previously was 13 points 12/2/09 vs Duquesne at Mellon Arena]
2. 3rd largest halftime turnaround 24 [down 14 and win by 10]
3. 2nd largest second half deficit overcome to win [22 is record in Purdue 12/2/1960]
4. Ties school record for largest deficit overcome to win a game with less than 1:30 to go [3 OT West Virginia game]
They said it:
Head Coach Jamie Dixon on his Panthers trailing by 18-
“I figured we couldn’t be as bad as we were in the first half, and they couldn’t be as good as they were in the first six or seven minutes. You just keep battling, and I think there was about 10 minutes left and we had a timeout, and I said to the guys there’s going to be about 15 possessions each team the rest of the way. That’s plenty of possessions to get stops, and plenty of shots to work baskets.”
“It’s a lot of time and you have to play well during that period, and we didn’t execute great against that 1-2-2. But we got offensive rebounds and we guarded better in the second half. Give them credit. They lost two games on the road to two pretty good teams that I think they felt they should have won. They were ahead in both of them, and they just responded and came out and said ‘we’re a better team than that.’ They took it to us. They were more physical, they got into us, and we just didn’t handle it as well as I would’ve thought. But we got better in the second half and did what we were supposed to do. I think patience and looking for your own shot was something that was evident.”
I am unsure of what to think. In theory this was a game both teams should have won. This opponent should have been a cake walk for the Panther but when Oakland was up 18 and then up by a decent margin in the final minute, there was no way they should have blown that game. The big question is will this game go down for what the Panthers did or what the Golden Grizzlies didn’t? Honest answer, you could go either way. It was the Panthers who came back but in that final minute, it was Oakland who made like Oprah and gave the game away. The Panthers clearly were in control of overtime limiting Oakland to four points. The fans were a true factor and the noise was incredible. On a personal note, that was the loudest I have ever heard the fans and my water and computer were both shaking for most of the game. This game proves that the Panthers can play from behind and is big for momentum. Regardless though Michigan on Wednesday will be a huge test.