Pitt seemed poised to pull of its biggest upset of the season in a Tuesday night contest against Louisville. But the Panthers lost a late lead then fell to the No. 11 Cardinals in overtime, 73-68.
All talk will be about the game’s final seconds, of course. Pitt (11-6) trailed Louisville (14-3) by two points and Terrell Brown appeared to get part of a tipped ball in the basket to tie the game. But Brown was instead called for a ridiculous over the back foul, which nullified the basket and, essentially, ended the game.
If you saw the play, you don’t need me to tell you how bad of a call it was. If you didn’t, you need to find it. Head coach Jeff Capel was livid. The bench was livid. The fans were livid. And, my guess is that if the officials were sitting at home watching the game on their own time, they would have been livid. Brown was not even close to committing a foul and that was one of those plays where being a big man behind a shorter player was what drew the whistle. After the call, Capel relegated himself to the end of the bench out of pure frustration and was not even first in line for the customary post-game handshake. And given what this team literally has to do every night to scratch out victories, having a potential one like this ripped away just isn’t easy.
The call was egregious enough on its own. But the officials didn’t have a particularly good night even beyond that call. An earlier phantom foul call on Xavier Johnson, for example, was another one that made no sense. And a technical foul was called on Louisville Chris Mack that seemed mostly questionable, too. I don’t like to use the phrase, ‘the officials were blind’ much. And as the broadcasters pointed out, calling some of these things in real time is challenging. But neither of those Pitt fouls looked even close to a foul of any kind, in real time, in slow motion, or probably not even if you sped up the tape even more.
The counter to that is, you can argue that Pitt never should have let it get that far. They led Louisville for a good chunk of the game and had a nine-point lead with under eight minutes left in the first half. However, Louisville came back trailing by only three at the half. The Panthers again built up another lead in the second half and led by seven inside of 2:30 left. Things were looking pretty good at that point but the Panthers lost that lead, too, and the game went to overtime. The Panthers didn’t score a single point in regulation after holding that seven-point lead and that’s a pretty easy way to lose a game.
So, let’s get to the good. Wait, there’s good? Kind of.
Jeff Capel talked a bit about Pitt not starting too well at times and I really thought they did a good job of staying focused throughout the entire game. Pitt came out pretty aggressive, made shots, and, well, just looked kind of sharp. They trailed early but quickly took control of the game until the Cardinals fought their way back at the end of the half. They played with more intensity for a full 40 minutes than I can recall in a while.
Sure, there were a few stretches when they didn’t score enough points. But those happened even when Pitt has had elite teams. I thought that the players at least looked into the game the entire way. They weren’t perfect, still took some poor shots, and also made a few plays that just made you scratch your head. But they were all in, it seemed, and they haven’t always played with that kind of desperation. I was really pleased with the effort.
The result is what, unfortunately, will be the focus. And in a win-lose event, I suppose that’s only fair. But I do think the Panthers showed a bit more intensity and heart than they have at other times this year and that’s worth something.
It’s also worth pointing out that Trey McGowens is sort of turning into a steady player and showing up on a more consistent basis. Now, he’s still a bit out of control at times and has taken some ill-advised shots. That one he took on the Brown tip towards the end was a doozy. But if you’re looking for Pitt’s best player at this point, it’s probably him, even if only by default. Justin Champagnie is right there based on what he’s doing on the glass (he had 11 rebounds tonight to go along with 110 points by the way). But Pitt’s most reliable scorer for the time being is probably McGowens.
McGowens had 24 points tonight and played a solid game. He also had five turnovers and shooting 8-22 isn’t technically a great shooting night. But he helped keep Pitt in the game and is averaging 15.8 points per game in his past ten games. He also has pretty good court vision. Made a nice pass in transition tonight and had 15 assists in his past two games coming into tonight’s game. I’m liking what he’s doing lately even if there’s plenty of room for improvement.
I don’t know that he has the repertoire to be the go to guy. In fact, I don’t really think he does. Frankly, this team doesn’t have that at all. At the end of a game, I’m not sure there’s one guy you feel comfortable with putting the ball in their hands and telling them to make something happen.
There are guys that could make something happen. Maybe McGowens gets to the basket and draws a foul on one of his ridiculous 0-60 drives. Maybe X makes a play. Maybe Justin Champagnie or Ryan Murphy make a shot. But are you really feeling confident with those guys with the ball in their hand when you need a bucket? Not really. You’re basically just hoping that one of them gets a clean shot off. But McGowens is at least showing an ability to mostly shed the complete duds of games that others on this team have. Something to watch.
I’m really encouraged by what Pitt did tonight. They just seemed like they had more energy. Maybe it was the opponent. Maybe it was getting out in front a pretty energetic crowd. Maybe it was the 18-point loss to Louisville a little while back. I don’t know but I’m hoping this is closer to the team we see going forward.