Pitt Panthers Much Needed Win Helps NCAA Tournament Case


Jan 31, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers guard Cameron Wright (3) shoots against Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Pat Connaughton (24) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As you saw in Brett Tunno’s recap the Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team got its signature victory of the season, defeating eighth ranked Notre Dame 76-72. Pitt is now 14-3 against top-10 teams at the Petersen Events Center.

“It’s great to see these guys get this win because they’ve been working so hard and they’ve been coming out and putting the effort in,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I’m proud of them and how they played and it was a great win over a very good team. Congratulations to our guys because they made big plays all the way through, and we guarded a really good team and kept a really good player [Jerian Grant] about as under control as you can.

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Earlier this week I made the gutsy prediction that Pitt would not make the NCAA Tournament and frankly it looked even worse after the loss at Virginia Tech. Not many outside of the team gave Pitt a chance. I on both counts was wrong.

It is very tough to get up for a game after the Panthers mentioned how invested they were against the Hokies. It would be easy be get discouraged or pack it in, especially against a ranked top-10 opponent that had just days earlier defeated a Duke team the Panthers lost to by double digits, but Pitt did not do that.

It is this resolve that earned the respect of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

“I think they are and will be a NCAA tournament team from our league,” said Brey. “I know they have had a couple of tough ones, but I think they will be in the NCAA tournament when it’s all said and done.”

This easily was Pitt’s best effort of the season and it came out with something to prove. The Panthers shot 68.2 percent in the second half after trailing by one point at halftime.

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant was mostly shut down until late in the game when he scored the final 10 Fighting Irish points when he was able to get a switch match up against Michael Young. It was here when Notre Dame got a 72-71 that Brey felt he could possibly “steal a win” from a Pitt team that was having its struggles closing out the game.

There were many heroes in this contest for Pitt. Cameron Wright shot 7-9 from the field including a left-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet, Jamel Artis continued his stretch of good play with 20 points and eight rebounds and Michael Young had a steady 16 points, but it was someone else that provided the final push for the Panthers.

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  • James Robinson had been the recipient of criticism from Panthers fans with some going as far to say as him being Pitt’s worst guard in the Jamie Dixon era. Many have been frustrated with the way the Panthers season had gone so it was only fitting that Robinson was the one who made the go-ahead basket to give them a 73-72 lead.

    “The play was for me to come off the hand off and just make a play,” Robinson said. “I turned the corner and made the basket. My team had a lot of faith in me to make the play and coach called a good play and we executed really well.”

    Pitt was able to get a stop before Artis, an 85 percent free throw shooter made both to stretch the lead to three points. Dixon told his team to foul as three seconds remained. Pitt instead got better as who else but Robinson got the steal and made a free throw to secure a win.

    Is Pitt an NCAA Tournament team? Only time will tell, but this win was sorely needed as following a home contest Monday against Bryant, the Panthers have a five game stretch of conference play that consists of hosting Syracuse, a road contest against Louisville, another home game against North Carolina and finally two road games against Virginia and Syracuse.

    This win should give Pitt confidence that it needs to go through this stretch. None of these conference games will be easy and it is also important not to overlook Bryant which earlier Saturday ended Robert Morris’s four game winning streak.

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