Well, that was interesting. Pitt didn't have its best game, but still had enough to pull out a narrow win in the 2K Sports Classic Championship.
Well now maybe someone will remove the lid from the baskets at MSG for Pitt's layup attempts.
Pitt won the title, but it didn't come easy. The biggest thing that stands out to me is this team is really going to have to learn how to play with leads. Each time it got a lead, it gave it away within a few minutes. The same thing happened in the Maryland game when Pitt built a 13-point lead and practically gave it away in about four minutes.
Let's take a look at some of Pitt's leads tonight:
Pitt had a 37-28 lead and Texas was within one in less than three minutes
Pitt had a 49-40 lead and Texas was within one in less than three minutes
Pitt had a 57-47 lead and Texas was within three in less than two minutes
That simply can't happen. You can't give up that many leads and expect to win consistently. All of those leads occurred in the second half. So the fact that Pitt seemed to flip a switch and immediately increase its lead shows a lack of focus. I tried to pick out a trend, but didn't really see just one thing. However, Pitt did seem to settle for more jump shots and leave players a bit more open. The team is going to have to not let its foot off the pedal.
Next up - Brad Wanamaker. I don't want to call out one specific player, but Brad Wanamaker really had a pretty bad game. His final line looked good in the box score, but anyone who watched the game knows what I'm talking about. According to the play-by-play, he missed four layups (it seemed like he missed more than that, by the way). He also had a key turnover with the shot clock winding down and Pitt up by four that led to an easy layup for Texas and getting to within two near the end of the game. Sure, there were others who didn't have great nights - Talib Zanna looked more like a freshman than he has so far this year and Gary McGhee isn't contributing enough. But Wanamaker is a leader on this team and Pitt can't afford to have him missing easy shots or turning the ball over at critical times in the game.
And what happens when Pitt doesn't win the rebounding battle? Well, we saw that tonight. Pitt lost the rebounding battle 33-31, something that doesn't happen all that much, and the game was, well, really close.
But it wasn't all bad. Ashton Gibbs was a straight up marksman. His shot looks so funky, but he has one of the quickest releases I've ever seen. The thing is that even when defenders are covering him well, it doesn't seem to bother him. He led Pitt with 24 and was the only Panther in double figures. More important, he carried Pitt when the game was close and after a slow start, had a huge second half with 19 points.
Gibbs was, of course, glad to have such a big night near his hometown:
"It's great to do it in front of my home crowd, in New York -- it's where I dreamed to play my whole life," said Gibbs, a junior from nearby Scotch Plains, N.J. "This is like a second home for us. We have a lot of guys from the metropolitan area. It's great for them."
The week has really been a homecoming of sorts for Gibbs and his big performance Friday earned him the tournament MVP Award. Despite the honor, Gibbs did his best Hakeem Olajuwon impersonation, heaping praise on his teammates:
After Ashton Gibbs was named Most Valuable Player of the Coaches vs. Cancer event at Madison Square Garden Friday night, he motioned for his entire team to join him at midcourt.
Officials from the Gazelle Group wouldn’t let his fellow Panthers come with him to receive the award, but Gibbs’ effort spoke volumes.
"It’s a team game," the junior guard from Scotch Plains, N.J. said after scoring 19 of his team-high 24 points in the second half as No. 5 Pitt downed Texas, 68-66, in the championship game.
"I wouldn’t have done it without my teammates. They screened for me and they looked for me in open spots. They got me the ball. It’s a team game. I’m a team player first and then individual awards come with it."
At least one teammate appreciated the recognition:
When Gibbs motioned for his teammates to come up, Woodall, who played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, wasn’t surprised by his teammate’s gesture.
"We’re a family," said Woodall, who finished with seven points, five assists, two steals and no turnovers. "This is probably the closest team I’ve been on since high school…This group is like a family, for real. We’re always together. I think that’s what brings us so close together on the floor. You don’t see us arguing with each other. We’re all together and we all just want to contribute and make each other better.
"And I think that showed when Ashton tried to bring everybody up to the middle of the court
And as much as Pitt gave away its leads, it made some big plays down the stretch. Ashton Gibbs made two key free throws to put the team up by four. Travon Woodall missed the front end of a one and one, but the ensuing defense was pretty good and the Panthers forced Texas guard Cory Joseph into a horrible shot.
Texas head coach Rick Barnes tried to explain what happened on that awful play:
Texas had a chance after Travon Woodall missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.1 seconds to play, but freshman Cory Joseph missed an off-balance shot from the baseline. Nasir Robinson grabbed the rebound, and Pitt ran out the clock.
"We wanted to take the ball to the basket and put pressure on the rim," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "We got too deep."
Did I mention the shot was terrible? Seriously, though, you've got to really see the shot to believe it. It was so bad particularly because it looked like Joseph had no idea where exactly he was on the court.
Despite the close game, Pitt is still 5-0. Not only are they undefeated, but they've got some quality wins early on:
"We've got something to build on," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's two good wins but I think we can learn something from these two wins. We have three quality wins against teams that will be in the RPI top 40. Those are hard to get this early."
Say what you will about NCAA tournament seeding, but these are the types of games that can cause you to move up one or drop one seed. Pitt's off to a good start in its quest for a #1 seed. There's plenty of work to be done for this team, but right now, time to enjoy a win over a ranked team and a 5-0 start.