For the majority of this game, the Pitt Panthers looked like the team who fought hard to Wake Forest and Syracuse last week. They pushed and shoved the #11th ranked Louisville Cardinals, as the bible says “A Little bit of leaven leavens the whole lump,” that little bit a ‘leaven’ for the Panthers was the kind of play that has cost them games this season. And as a result, they fell once again to the Cardinals, this time in a 67-60 defeat in front of a nationally-televised audience and a sold-out crowd at the Petersen Events Center.
This loss officially puts the Panthers NCAA Tournament hopes on life support. With 3 games left, they’re now 19-8 and 8-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They had little room for error before this game, you can imagine how less it’s gotten after suffering another season-sweep to the Cardinals.
“We need to execute better down the stretch.” Pitt HC Jaime Dixon said “and we need to guard better one-on-one. That’s what hurt us tonight.”
Pitt started strong against Louisville, punching them in the mouth in route to a 9-2 lead. Baskets by Fs Mike Young, Jamel Artis and G James Robinson led the way. The Cardinals looked out of sorts, missing key baskets and committing fouls that drove HC Rick Pitino crazy.
But eventually Louisville got it together and started playing like the team that they’re known for. Dunks by C Chinanu Onuaku helped tie the game at 10, and then they would take the lead as the Panthers began to show signs of inconsistency. Louisville led 14-10 before F Ryan Luther came off the bench and hit his first 3-pointer of the season and then he scored the next 4 points tying the game at 16.
Young then gave Pitt an 18-16 lead followed by a jumper by G Chris Jones. Artis then hit 4 free throws and Pitt had a 24-20 lead. But back came the Cardinals as they closed the gap to 27-26. Robinson then added 2 free throws before Louisville G Damion Lee added 2 free throws of his own to keep it a 1-point Pitt lead.
But then Pitt’s sloppiness took over as they began turning over the ball and missing baskets. As a result, the Cardinals scored and when the first half ended, they had a 33-29 lead.
In the second half, Pitt started strong again as C Raafael Maia scored the first 2 points on a dunk and then Robinson got a steal and tied the game at 33. After G Quentin Snider gave the Cardinals back the lead, Artis then hit a 3-pointer and Jones then hit a free throw, but the Cardinals then took a 40-37 lead before Artis and Luther helped give Pitt a 41-40 lead. But Luther wasn’t done as he hit a 3-pointer and then hit 2 free throws and Pitt led 46-40.
Pitt led 48-40 when Lee hit a 3-pointer to close Pitt’s lead to 48-43. Louisville then tied the game on another 3-pointer and then Young gave the Panthers the lead on a dunk. After the Cardinals once again tied the game, Luther then gave Pitt back the lead. But then the Cardinals hit another 3-pointer, giving them a 53-52 lead but then Young gave the lead back to the Panthers on a basket.
But then Louisville hit another 3-pointer and had a 56-54 lead, but Robinson tied the game on a jumper. Louisville wasn’t done as Snider’s jumper gave them the lead once again. Young then tied it on a skyhook. But then G David Letvich hit another 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 61-58 lead.
The Cardinals would then add 2 more on a dunk, and 2 more on free throws with seconds left in the game. They tried to close the gap but they couldn’t get the ball into the basket and had to foul the Cardinals to stop the clock. Louisville would then add 5 more points to secure the 67-60 victory.
Snider didn’t start, but he led the winning Cardinals (22-6, 11-4 ACC) with 14 points and 7 assists and helped hurt the Panthers with two 3-pointers. F Deng Adel led with 7 rebounds. Letvich also hurt the Panthers with three 3-pointers. Louisville knew it wasn’t pretty, but they made the baskets that were needed to continue their mastery over the Panthers.
For the Panthers, Luther did all he could for his team as he scored a career-high 17 points off the bench. Artis led with 9 rebounds, but he and Young could only combine for 23 points-not what the Panthers would need from their top 2 scorers. Jones would lead with 4 assists.
“Getting over this won’t be easy,” Said Luther “but we can’t dwell on it too long. It’s not going to get easier against Duke. We’ve got to get ready to finish out this season strong.”
Pitino on if Pitt is an NCAA tourney team: “I do. Obviously they play Duke next, they’re going to have to get some of these games.”
Pitino is indeed correct. The Panthers now have perhaps their toughest challenge of the season when they welcome those 15th ranked Blue Devils (20-7, 9-5 ACC) to the Petersen Events Center Sunday afternoon. It’s the Panthers final regular season game vs. a ranked team. here’s hope they double Wednesday night’s effort against the Blue Devils in what will also be their final home game of the 2015-16 season.
“Close isn’t good enough. There’s no consolation in that.” Said Dixon “You need to win a big one at home. We’ll have another opportunity on Sunday.”
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