WASHINGTON – The final seconds of close games haven’t been kind to the Pitt men’s… WASHINGTON – The final seconds of close games haven’t been kind to the Pitt men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2009, the top-seeded Panthers fell to Villanova as Scottie Reynolds hit a basket at the buzzer in the Elite Eight to deny Pitt a Final Four appearance. Last year, Pitt missed two last-second three pointers and fell to Xavier in the second round.
This year, it looked like Pitt would finally get a last-second win in its third round game against Butler at the Verizon Center on Saturday. But after a crazy final 10 seconds, Pitt wound up on the losing end, falling to the No. 8 seed, 71-70.
“This is a disappointing loss for us,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in a news conference. “We battled. We got down and made a number of plays to put ourselves in this position. We had a lead, and just were not able to close it.”
Butler’s Andrew Smith appeared to win the game with a turnaround jumper with the clock winding down. But as Gilbert Brown raced up the court for a desperation shot, referee Terry Wymer whistled Butler’s Shelvin Mack for a foul near the half-court line – sending Brown to the free throw line for two shots with 1.4 seconds remaining.
Brown made the first shot, and missed the second.
The game appeared destined for overtime, but Antonio Petty whistled Nasir Robinson for a foul as he battled with Butler’s Matt Howard for the rebound. With 0.8 seconds left, Howard made a free throw to win the game for the Bulldogs, as Brad Wanamaker was unable to get a shot off after Howard intentionally missed the second shot.
“The ups and downs of the game, it’s really emotional during that time period,” Brown said. “Everything could have been avoided if I make a free throw and (Robinson) doesn’t foul. It’s just that’s the way it went. They’re a great team. All the credit is due to them.”
Butler coach Brad Stevens, while pleased with the outcome, thought it was an unfortunate way to end a game.
“You hate to see a game end that way,” Stevens said. “But I asked (Mack), did he think he fouled (Brown), and he thought he fouled him. And (Howard) thought he got fouled. So that was the way the game ended.”
Though the officials called two fouls in the final two seconds of the game, Dixon refused to blame anyone but himself.
“It’s their call,” Dixon said of the refs. “It’s their game, and they did a very good job all the way through. And we’re not going to blame officials.
“But I’m very proud of our guys, and as always, I’ll take responsibility for the loss.”
The team refused to blame Robinson for taking the foul that ultimately won the game for Butler.
“Nasir was just trying to make a play,” Brown said. “It’s not like he did it intentionally or anything. He’s a hard worker. He’s a hustler. He’s probably the hardest worker on the team.”
But Robinson didn’t shy away from any responsibility.
“I blame myself,” Robinson said in the locker room. “I am smarter than that. I have been playing this game too long to make a dumb mistake like that.”
So far, this year’s NCAA Tournament has featured several games that were decided by foul calls or non-calls in the final seconds, which has sparked a debate among the college basketball world.
Should the refs let the players decide the final moments of a game, or is a foul in the first half the same as a foul in the last 10 seconds?
Jamie Dixon thinks the referees have done an adequate job, even though his team was on the wrong end of it on Saturday.
“I think you gotta call it consistently all the way through,” Dixon said. “It doesn’t change from time to time, team to team at any time.”
John Higgins, the officiating crew chief, addressed the media in a statement after the game.
“We do it every day,” Higgins said of making the calls at the end of the game. “It just happened to be a crucial part of the game. You have to do what you have to do as an official. If we get it right, we’re good. If we get it wrong, we’re deadbeats and we’re all over SportsCenter. We did what we think is correct.”
Officiating aside, it was Butler’s hot shooting that helped stun the Panthers, as the Bulldogs made eight 3-pointers in the first half, and Mack finished with seven 3-pointers and 30 points.
Pitt had to overcome a first-half deficit, trailing by as many as 12 points. The Panthers opened the second half with an 11-3 run to help set up the nail-biting finish that Pitt is so accustomed to in the NCAA Tournament.
Brown led the Panthers with 24 points and four 3-pointers on five attempts from behind the arc, while Robinson contributed 16 points, and Ashton Gibbs had 11.
Butler’s victory marks the Bulldogs’ seventh win in their past eight NCAA Tournament games, as Butler played Cinderella last season and made it all the way to the national championship game before falling to Duke.
Stevens believes they can do it again, especially now that his team stole the No. 1 seed’s path to the Final Four.
“One thing these guys do is play through the horn, and they’ll always play through the horn,” Stevens said.
For Pitt, the loss marked the end of the road for this year’s squad, as Pitt’s Final Four hopes will once again have to wait until next year. But there is no next year for Pitt’s seniors – Brown, Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Nick Rivers.
“All the losses are tough,” Wanamaker said. “For this one to be the end of it all for me at Pittsburgh, this may be the toughest. I am overwhelmed with emotions right now. I just love my teammates. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today. They made this year special for me and the other seniors.”