Men’s Basketball: Pitt’s NCAA Tournament hopes diminish with loss

By Lauren Kirschman

Pitt’s hopes of recovering from an 0-7 start in the Big East and reaching the NCAA Tournament… Pitt’s hopes of recovering from an 0-7 start in the Big East and reaching the NCAA Tournament dimmed considerably on Saturday as the Panthers fell on the road to Seton Hall in their second straight loss.

The return of starting point guard Travon Woodall — who suffered abdominal and groin injuries in November — had seemed to be the answer for the struggling Pitt men’s basketball team. The Panthers won four of five games following Woodall’s return on Jan. 21, including a home win over then-No. 9 Georgetown.

But Pitt’s four-game winning streak ended with a loss to South Florida on Wednesday, and the Panthers followed that defeat with the 73-66 loss to Seton Hall (17-8, 6-7 Big East) on Sunday, dropping their overall record to 15-11 and their conference record to 4-9.

Pitt’s record quickly improved from 0-7 to 4-7 in the Big East once Woodall returned, catching national attention and causing analysts and fans to dissect the team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

Most came to the conclusion that if the Panthers could finish the year with a 9-9 record in the Big East and make a solid showing in the Big East Tournament, they would become the first Big East team to start 0-7 in conference play and still earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

But now, with five games left in conference play, the Panthers have already reached nine losses and need to go undefeated in order to finish the year at .500 in the Big East.

Pitt looked like it was going to pull away in the second half against Seton Hall. With the score tied at 51 and 12:11 left in the game, Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs scored eight consecutive points — interrupted by two free throws from the Pirates — and forward Nasir Robinson added a layup to give the Panthers a 61-55 lead with 8:12 remaining.

But the Pirates answered with a 10-0 scoring run following a timeout that made the score 65-61 in favor of Seton Hall with 4:44 left on the clock.

The Panthers fought back, and, with 1:27 left on the clock, Seton Hall’s Brandon Mobley fouled Gibbs on a 3-point shot attempt. Gibbs sank all three foul shots to trim the Seton Hall advantage to one point, 67-66.

But the Pirates’ Jordan Theodore found Herb Pope cutting to the basket on the Pirates’ next possession, and Pope scored an uncontested layup. Pitt took over possesion down three points with 27 seconds remaining, but Woodall turned the ball over and Robinson was called for an intentional foul on Pope.

Pope sank four free throws in the final seconds to seal the game for the Pirates.

Gibbs finished the game with 26 points total after scoring 15 of the Panthers’ last 19 points. Lamar Patterson also reached double figures for the Panthers, adding 15 points.

Pope and guard Aaron Cosby led Seton Hall with 19 points each, and Pope also grabbed 14 rebounds. Theodore added 15 points and nine assists.

The Panthers will look to start a new winning streak when they take on West Virginia on Thursday in the second installment of the Backyard Brawl at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt won the first meeting on the road 74-66.