"Pitt vs. Oakland: Oh noes, Internet - we suck again"
That was the title of the post I was working on after it appeared Pitt would job to Oakland. Okay, so it may have been a bit strong. Nevertheless, who saw that coming?
Pitt had the look of a markedly different team than last year's squad. Through their first three games, they won by an average of 31 points. Their closest game, was a 25-point beatdown on Lehigh, which is a decent team with a potential NBA Lottery pick. So to say I was surprised the Panthers were down late to Oakland would be an understatement.
Pitt was down by 14 at the half and didn't cut the lead to single digits with about eight minutes left in the game. A furious rally sparked by two late James Robinson free throws sent the game into overtime. And as is usually the case in such a game, the better team simply wore the lesser team down. The Panthers went home with a 72-62 win and we can carry on like nothing ever happened.
So what almost did Pitt in? The rebounding was there - the Panthers outrebounded the Golden Grizzlies (and yes, that's their real nickname) 42-27. It wasn't turnovers, either. Pitt had 15 of them according to the unofficial box score, but that's hardly enough to completely derail a team considering Oakland had 18.
No, on this night, it was cold, hard shooting that was the problem. Mostly that cold part. The Panthers hit only 41% of their shots on the night, buoyed by the ineffectiveness of Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson who combined for a woeful 3-22 from the field. It's hard to win when two of your best players shoot that poorly in the same game.
One frustrating aspect for me was that it took the Panthers so long to regroup. After a 14-point deficit at halftime, Pitt wasn't able to make up any significant ground until there was about eight minutes left as they cut the lead to single-digits. In other words - whatever Jamie Dixon said at halftime, it clearly didn't work. Instead of coming out with fire and a new-found determination, they basically treaded water for 12 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if they were in the midst of a close game, but down by so much, it almost meant their comeback was too little too late.
The other thing to note is that freshman Steven Adams was thoroughly dominated by Oakland's Corey Petros, a solid but unspectacular center. Petros had 19 points and seven rebounds to Adams' four points and five boards. Adams has to be far more assertive and while he doesn't need to win every head-to-head matchup for Pitt to have success, he can't be run out of the gym.
Lastly, I'd be remiss to not talk about Robinson, obviously. He was clearly Pitt's best player tonight and without his two clutch free throws, that title I mentioned earlier would be the one front and center on Cardiac Hill. We've been talking so much about how mature this guy plays, but if you needed any further proof, those game-tying free throws were it. Kid is just a flat out winner and it's pretty easy to see why his recruiting stock just continued to go up last year before he came to Pitt. He had 14 points, three assists, two steals, in 35 minutes of action and will only get better.
The thing to keep in perspective is that the scare doesn't mean the Panthers are a bad team. It only means that they're probably not all the way back from their disastrous 2011-12 season and that there are still some questions surrounding the team. It was good to see them pull the game out, but it really shouldn't have taken them 3/4 of a game to start playing well. The important thing, though, was that they pulled out the win and probably grew up a bit as a team because of it.