Well, it wasn't pretty at the end but Pitt held on for a 61-59 win over Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The Panthers nearly blew it, if you happened to miss it. They held a 58-51 lead with only about 40 seconds left but that proved to be plenty of time for Georgia Tech to make a run. A Chris Jones foul helped the Yellow Jackets cut it to 58-53 and then a turnover and ensuing layup made it 58-55 at 33 seconds. After a Chris Jones free throw and Georgia Tech tip in, we were looking at a 59-57 game with 12 seconds left. A Cam free throw (and miss) made it 60-57 but the Yellow Jackets simply ran out of time as Pitt wisely fouled before Georgia Tech could get a three-point shot off.
I was a little surprised when Georgia Tech trailed by two but opted to make a free throw instead of missing it intentionally with only about two seconds left. The odds of grabbing a rebound and getting a two-pointer seemed better to me than having to foul immediately, where time ran off the clock, then get a hail Mary pass all the way down the court for a basket. Jamel Artis, the player fouled, did miss one of his free throws so it was only a two-point game. But with only about 1.5 seconds left on the clock, I mean, what are the chances of the Yellow Jackets successfully catching a long pass (they didn't even get that far) and then getting in position to make a shot right away?
Heck, Artis was better off missing the shot and forcing them to take a desperation shot all the way from the other end. Artis even looked like he was trying to miss if you saw his second free throw, which was a line drive, and then his body language afterward. I would be very surprised if he was trying to make that.
Either way, it was good to see Pitt win. No, the team's NCAA hopes are still slim to none. Next up for Pitt is a date with Virginia and then two more difficult games. But for now, it's nice to know the season will go at least one more game.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Pitt managed to win despite not getting much offensively from Cam Johnson (five points) and Artis (11 ... more on him in a bit). The team, as a whole, just didn't shoot well, making 39% of their shots. The good thing for them is that Georgia Tech was even worse, making 35% of their attempts, and Pitt's defense was pretty solid tonight.
Again, it was almost all of the starters getting the job done for Pitt. The Panthers had only three bench points, courtesy of a three-pointer by Jonathan Milligan. Michael Young led the way with 17 points and while Jamel Artis had nine rebounds, he continued to struggle offensively with only 11 points on 3-12 shooting and three turnovers. Artis really hasn't been himself lately and as I wrote in the All-ACC recognition post earlier, he hasn't even reached his season average since the big 43-point game he had against Louisville about two months ago.
That's not to suggest he's been terrible. He's put together some good games since then but when the team has no bench scoring, it gets hard to make up those missing points. And it's even harder when he's taking a lot of shots but not making them. Scoring 11 points while taking five shots is a lot different than scoring 11 and taking 12 shots. Without him scoring in bunches, Pitt has a hard time winning even games against weaker teams. It's practically impossible to beat the better ones if he and Young aren't having good games. For Pitt to go further, they absolutely need more from him.
To a neutral observer, the story line from the other side is more intriguing than from the Pitt standpoint. Georgia Tech was seen as a bubble team probably needing a few wins to have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. But a loss to Pitt tonight likely ends any hope of getting in now and the Panthers have taken at least one team off the bubble. I think Georgia Tech would have had a hard time getting regardless. Unless they won the ACC Tournament, they would have ended up with 15 losses and I'm not sure any 15-loss team has ever made it in. But without a conference tourney win, there's practically no chance of them getting in.
Next up, Pitt will face Virginia on Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m.