Pitt Men’s Basketball loses to Georgetown in Big East tournament

By Lauren Kirschman

Pitt’s decade-long streak of NCAA Tournament appearances has officially ended

The only way… Pitt’s decade-long streak of NCAA Tournament appearances has officially ended

The only way the Panthers could’ve earned a bid this season was with a Big East tournament championship, but with their 64-52 loss to Georgetown in the second round on Thursday, the men’s basketball team will now wait to hear whether it did enough to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

“This is the first time in our lives we’ve gone through this situation,” Pitt senior Nasir Robinson said of missing the NCAA Tournament. “We’re just going to finish off strong … We’re going to finish strong and keep fighting.”

Classmate Ashton Gibbs said he wants to play in the NIT if the Panthers are invited.

“It’s basketball at the end of the day,” he said. “That’s what we came to college for is to play basketball. Whenever we can play, we’re definitely going to play our hardest.”

Pitt and Villanova, who lead the conference with 10-straight and seven-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, respectively, will both miss the tournament this season. Marquette now leads the Big East with six consecutive bids and will likely earn a seventh this year.

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said he was focused on his team’s performance against Georgetown after the game rather than its post-season future and the end of an NCAA Tournament streak that currently ranks seventh in the country.

“Obviously we knew we had to win this tournament here, and obviously it’s been a nice streak and something that I guess only a few schools have done more,” he said. “But right now, it’s all about this game and how we feel after this one for us, for more personally I should say, and I just felt we were going to play better.”

Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said the Hoyas emphasized two areas entering the game: points in the paint and rebounding.

The Hoyas won in both categories.

Georgetown out-rebounded Pitt 36-25 and scored 28 points in the paint compared to the Panthers’ 20. Henry Sims dominated for the Hoyas, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He scored 11 points in the first half and even after the break, the Panthers couldn’t find the answer defensively.

“I think Henry has been pretty good most the year,” Thompson said. “I thought he was very good today in terms of his effectiveness on the block, his effectiveness as a passer and his decision making.”

The game stood in stark contrast to the Panthers’ first meeting with Georgetown on Jan. 28. The Panthers, in the midst of a four-game winning streak, won that game by beating the Hoyas on the boards 35-23 and shooting 52 percent for the game, 57 percent in the second half.

“Our zone was effective tonight,” Thompson III said on Wednesday. “The first time we played them, our back line wasn’t good and they ended up with a handful of layups. We were better tonight.”

In January, Pitt had no problem carving up Georgetown’s zone using solid ball movement and penetration to find solid looks inside. Nasir Robinson scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game, while Lamar Patterson added 18 points and seven assists. Travon Woodall dished out 10 assists.

Pitt’s ability to effectively attack the zone disappeared in the teams’ second game. The Panthers struggled to penetrate or get the ball inside. Instead, they took 21 threes and made just five.

“That was a major focus, protecting the paint,” Sims said. “Last game they had layups and dunks, it seemed like all their points. We made sure we held that at a minimum today.”

Woodall finished with two assists on Wednesday. Robinson and Patterson combined for just 16 points. Pitt’s big men — Dante Taylor, Talib Zanna and Malcolm Gilbert — grabbed three total rebounds.

“We never really got anyone going offensively,” Dixon said. “We got off to a good start early, I thought we got some touches inside, but as the game got going we had less success inside and less success in penetration.”

Georgetown closed the first half on a 16-2 run that transformed a 23-20 deficit into a 31-23 halftime lead. Pitt is now 0-12 when trailing at the half.

The Panthers started the second half on a 6-0 scoring run as they finally worked the ball inside for two Taylor layups and a short Robinson jumper. Thompson, who switched to man-to-man defense early in the second half, quickly switched back to zone to shut down the Panthers.

Then the Hoyas responded offensively, boosting the lead back to eight points with two consecutive threes and effectively taking the fight out of the Panthers for the rest of the game.

Pitt started the game strong and didn’t trail until a Greg Whittington free throw with 2:54 remaining that gave the Hoyas a 24-23 lead. Georgetown wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the contest.

“This is [the seniors’] last time to play in the Garden in the Big East Championship,” Dixon said. “I know they wanted to go out of here winning this thing but we came up short.”