"In position to steal one on the road."
Truer words could not be spoken. Those were the words from one of the announcers near the end of the game. And steal it, the Hokies did.
For all intents and purposes, Pitt had their game against Virginia Tech on Tuesday night won. The Panthers raced out to an early double digit lead and held a comfortable lead for most of the game. For around 30 minutes, Pitt clearly outplayed Virginia Tech. I don't even think they trailed until past the midway point of the second half. Still, the Panthers couldn't hold on and lost to Virginia Tech, 66-63.
If you're looking for the deciding stretch in the game, look no further than a pretty unfortunate foul by Michael Young. Typically, one foul doesn't change the course of a game. And if we're being fair to Young here, his foul was hardly the only thing that cost Pitt. Pitt had a four-point lead late in the game and on the final possession, had three different looks from the three-point line to tie things up. Young's foul hurt (a lot) but certainly wasn't the only reason Pitt lost tonight.
But in terms of finding the biggest game-changer tonight, well, it was easily that sequence.
If you missed the game and need a recap, here goes. Up six points in the second half, Virginia Tech had a fast break going. Instead of giving up an easy layup, Young fouled. Unfortunately, the Hokies made the shot anyway. Not only that, but Young was assessed an intentional foul call, which also gave Virginia Tech two free throws and the ball. They knocked down both shots at the line then hit a three-pointer.
In one sequence, you had a seven-point swing. That gave the Hokies a one-point lead and after trading leads back and forth, they prevailed.
First, the old adage here certainly applies. If you're going to foul in that situation, you better make sure the guy gets a hard, clean foul so you're not assessed an intentional foul call and so the guy doesn't make the shot. Young did neither.
About that intentional foul, though. Perhaps I'm wrong on this but the call didn't look so clear cut to me. In watching the replay several times, it looked like Young very clearly fouled, but then reached out his arms to stop the Virginia Tech player from falling. What the announcers seemed to keep saying (incorrectly) was that Young grabbed the player as the foul. The foul came before that, then the grab, which seemed to be to concede the foul.
I don't know the nuances of the rule but they did flash it on the screen and it said something about grabbing a player triggering that call. I would argue, however, that it wasn't the grab that was the foul - rather, Young fouled before that.
I didn't see much complaining from Young with regards to that call so maybe I've got that one wrong. But if you watch the replay, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. I can see why the call made because the refs are likely programmed to make that call if they see two arms wrapped around a guy but, to me, it looked Young was conceding the foul and merely not trying to hurt the guy because they were going at a pretty good speed towards the basket.
Final thought on the Young stuff. Regardless of how the call went, etc., Young has to either let the guy go there or foul without the intentional. Give a hard foul to the shooting arm and let it go at that. There's simply no reason to put yourself in that type of position and as a senior especially, you just have to know that.
The loss is particularly frustrating because Pitt seemed to be gaining some momentum. They weren't even completely out of the NCAA Tournament discussion according to some pundits because of their RPI. But to lose a game like this when you had such command of the game ... you just sort of want to pull your hair out, no?
Pitt had the game at home, had a nice lead, and was playing, mostly, pretty well. The Young sequence really changed things and Pitt could never get fully back on track. That's a lot of points to give up on one possession and in a conference game, every point often matters.
Also part of the problem was that Pitt's offense wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. They played a good first half but their second half with only 23 points was one of their worst outputs of the year. Young and Artis weren't terrible tonight, but they scored 'only' 30 points on 13-34 shooting. That's about ten points less than they usually do and a lot of misses. While Cam's 17 helped, it wasn't enough on a team that is really a three-man crew in terms of offense.
Silver lining for me is that Cam Johnson appears to be stepping up more and more. He's the lone guy back among the starters next year and to see him taking on more of a role is encouraging. He even led the team with 12 rebounds, which is pretty insane. Johnson also nearly had a triple double with seven assists, including one really smart play when he tipped a ball to Artis for a layup on a fast break. I continue to maintain that he will get NBA consideration in two years and that's looking more and more possible with each passing game.
For now, though, this loss hurts. Had Pitt not shown much lately, it would be just another loss this year. But with the way they'd been playing coming into this one, it's just frustrating.