Jamie Dixon’s No. 25 Pitt Panthers’ basketball team hasn’t turned in a dominating performance over the course of their last three games.
Pitt was hoping that would change with Virginia Tech visiting the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as the 8-14 Hokies (1-9 in ACC play coming in), losers of nine straight games, gave the Panthers all they could handle as Pitt needed a bit of luck to gut out a 62-57 double overtime victory, marking the first time the Panthers have played consecutive overtime games since the 1997-98 season.
Despite the win, it proved to be too tough of a game against a team that hasn’t kept a game within 20 points over the course of the past three weeks.
Down by four with 33 seconds left to play in regulation, Pitt (20-4, 8-3 ACC) sophomore point guard James Robinson canned a three-pointer from the corner and drew a foul on the play to complete a four-point play to send the game into overtime tied at 44.
“I just tried to take shots when I was open,” said Robinson. “Cameron does a great job and penetrating and finding open shooters and he found me in the corner. That could have been any of us though as we had confidence in all of us to make shots. I just happened to be the one open and I had to step up and make it.”
However shots didn’t drop frequently for either team during the extra periods as the two teams combined to go only 1-for-19. Neither team made a shot from the floor in the first overtime, which ended up tied at 52, and Virginia Tech (8-15, 1-10) went 0-for-13 from the floor combined in the extra periods.
However the Panthers were able to ice the game, making 12-of-16 free throws in the two overtimes.
“It’s good to see our guys make our free throws down the stretch again,” said Dixon.
The only shot made from the floor in the extra sessions was from Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, who went the game’s first 46 minutes without connecting.
Patterson is battling a thumb injury which clearly effected his play as the senior went only 1-of-9 from the floor and 0-for-6 from behind the arc with four turnovers on the day, finishing with only five points, five assists and one rebound.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to play,” said Patterson. “I hurt it last game and I was I some pain and wasn’t very comfortable with the wrap on but even when I took it off I was still in some discomfort.”
The Panthers came out of the gates scorching hot from the perimeter, jumping out to a 13-5 lead, connecting on their first three shots from behind the arc, two from junior Cameron Wright and one from Robinson.
However the Hokies stormed right back with a 9-0 run to take the lead halfway through the first half.
After a lot of back-and-forth action saw the lead exchange hands six different times, Pitt got a boost with back-to-back three point plays from Talib Zanna and Josh Newkirk to jump back in front, ultimately taking a 27-26 lead into the locker room.
“I thought we came out good against their zone,” said Dixon. “But we hit a stretch where we didn’t make shots and didn’t make plays. But we made the plays down the stretch.”
The Pitt defense wasn’t great as Virginia Tech shot 53 percent from the floor in the first half and 50 percent from behind the arc, which included a trio of triples from Jarell Eddie.
The Panthers were also outworked on the glass for a fourth consecutive game as the Hokies held a 14-9 rebounding edge at the break and finished the afternoon outrebounding the Panthers 43-28, including grabbing a stunning 17 offensive rebounds.
“It’s four games in a row,” said Dixon. “They are a good rebounding team and I was concerned about that coming in. But we have to rebound better. That’s obvious.”
Pitt came out very sluggish in the second half, making only two of their first 12 shots from the floor and found themselves playing from behind for a 15 minute stretch.
It wasn’t until Robinson hit a three with 6:44 remaining that Pitt took a 41-39 edged. Moments later Wright made a hustle play when he dove over the scorer’s table and saved a loose ball that led to a layup by Newkirk.
Wright’s effort not only woke up the Panthers’ team, but the Oakland Zoo as well and Pitt began to feed off that.
“I thought it was the turning point in the game,” said Dixon. “That’s the type of effort he has been giving and he’s made a couple of plays like that. Overall though I am excited for our guys. We showed character and executed when we needed to the past two games and came away with tough win.”
Wright led the Panthers in scoring with 18 points, while Robinson (16) and Newkirk (11) also finished in double figures.
Eddie led the Hokies with 15 points, knocking down 5-of-12 shots from behind the arc.
Coming off a stretch in which they have played three games in six days, the Panthers are off until they host No. 1 Syracuse Wednesday night.
“I’m excited to get another shot at them,” said Patterson. “I thought we should have won the first matchup. I will be ready.”
Photo Credit: Associated Press