Panthers knock off No. 11 Virginia in OT, 88-76, for first ACC win


Pitt point guard Jamel Artis (1) led the Panthers with 24 points in an 88-76 overtime win over No. 11 Virginia. Elaina Zachos | Senior Staff Photographer

By Ryan Zimba | Staff Writer

It wasn’t a full house at the Petersen Events Center Wednesday night, but it sure sounded like it when the Pitt men’s basketball team started pulling away in overtime against No. 11 Virginia.

The game was almost a repeat performance from the Panthers’ ACC opener on New Year’s Eve, when No. 24 Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sunk a long-distance dagger with 2.5 seconds left in overtime to clinch a 78-77 win. But this time, the Panthers (12-3 overall, 1-1 ACC) knocked off the Cavaliers (11-3 overall, 1-2 ACC), 88-76, to deliver new head coach Kevin Stallings his first conference win and first win over a ranked opponent as Pitt’s head coach.

“That was a great college basketball game,” Stallings said. “We feel fortunate to have won it. I’m really proud of my team, proud of the way they played, proud of the way they competed.”

Pitt senior point guard Jamel Artis led all scorers with 24 points while senior forward Michael Young contributed 19 for the Panthers.

Virginia came into the contest with the nation’s best defense, allowing only 48.6 points per game. But Pitt’s starters seemed to have their way with the Cavaliers’ stingy defense early. Stallings said the key to overcoming Virginia’s vaunted defense was simple.

“I think when you play Virginia, you have to make shots, and we made shots,” Stallings said.

The two teams started the game about even, with the Panthers grabbing a slim 10-8 lead after the first five minutes of play. Pitt’s offense kept clicking after the first media timeout, as baskets by Young and junior forward Ryan Luther gave the Panthers a 15-8 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half.

But Virginia responded, combining stout defense with perfect shooting to go on an 8-0 run of its own and take a 16-15 lead. With the way Pitt’s series with the Cavaliers has gone since joining the ACC — four Virginia wins in which the Panthers never reached 50 points — it appeared Pitt’s best chance at victory might have already slipped away.

The Panthers reclaimed the advantage though, and a 3-point play by senior guard Chris Jones put the Panthers up 29-23 with 5:29 left in the first half. The teams traded baskets to close out the half, and Pitt took a 35-32 into the break.

Second-chance points were the difference for the Panthers’ offense in the first half. Pitt outrebounded the Cavaliers 21-8 and scored 14 second-chance points off nine offensive rebounds.

“Our breakdowns were costly,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said after the game. “I’m still steaming about those offensive rebounds.”

Young — the ACC’s leading scorer — paced the Panthers with 11 points at the half, while reserve guard Marial Shayok led Virginia with 8 points off the bench. Shayok provided a spark for the Cavaliers whenever he entered the game, instantly becoming the quickest and most athletic player on the court.

Both teams continued their accurate shooting to begin the second half. After the Cavaliers tied the game on a layup by point guard London Perrantes, Pitt scored five straight to take a 44-39 lead just over three minutes into the half.

The Panthers continued to extend their lead, and went up by seven after a 3-point basket by Artis — the team’s fourth consecutive made 3-pointer of the half — with 11:42 left to play. Sensing the shift in momentum, students in the Oakland Zoo started jumping up and down in excitement, sending vibrations through the press box.

But the Cavaliers didn’t go away, instead putting together an 11-3 run in the ensuing sequence to take a 61-58 lead with just under six minutes left. Pitt came right back though, regaining the lead on a step-back 3-pointer from Artis with 4:39 to go, forcing Bennett to call a timeout.

With 56 seconds to go, Virginia had the ball down by three. After a loose-ball scramble, Jones committed a foul, sending Shayok to the line with a one-and-one opportunity. Shayok missed the first shot, and the Cavaliers committed a foul on the rebound, giving the Panthers the ball with 38 seconds remaining.

Young missed a jumper from just inside the 3-point line, and the Cavaliers got the ball back with 15 seconds to work with. Perrantes drove right down the court, pulling up and draining a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 70.

“It’s a big shot,” Artis said. “We probably should have closed out a little harder, made him drive a little bit.”

Young missed a last-second 3-point attempt, and for the second consecutive game, the Panthers were headed to overtime and Stallings had to give his players an ultimatum.

“I just said, ‘Listen, we can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can man up and do something about it,’” Stallings said. “And they obviously chose the latter.”

Pitt took the lead to begin the overtime, going up 79-70 with 2:45 left in the extra period on three straight 3-pointers — the first two coming from senior forward Sheldon Jeter and the last from Artis.

“A lot of it just comes from being found in the right spots,” Jeter said. “The first time, they kind of keyed in on [Young and Artis] and just left me, and the second time we ran the play again, they stayed with me and that’s when [Artis] got that three.”

This time, Pitt was able to close the game out, winning by a score of 88-76.

“We didn’t drop our head when [Perrantes] hit the shot at the end of regulation,” Jeter said. “We came together, and that’s something that a lot of people said we haven’t done in the past. And I think we did that today.”

The win marks the Panthers’ first over the Cavaliers since joining the ACC in 2013, as well as their first game in that stretch scoring more than 50 points against Bennett’s team.

Next up for Pitt is a road game against the team’s former Big East rival Syracuse at noon on Saturday, Jan. 7.