Petersen Events Center sees unusually sparse crowd for NIT game


High above midcourt, in section 220 of the Petersen Events Center, a handful of people watched the Pitt men’s basketball team painfully slog through its National Invitational Tournament first round matchup against George Washington University. 

They were the only occupants in the arena’s entire darkened upper tier on Tuesday night. Down below, the turnout wasn’t much better. The Oakland Zoo filled far less than its usual quota of space bordering three of the court’s four sides, and the rest of the lower sections around it featured mostly empty seats as well.

In all, the announced crowd of 3,049 — a season low — fell well short of the venue’s full capacity of 12,508.

Pete and MaryPat Swauger, in their first year as season ticket holders, were two of the few that watched from up high.   

“I was really surprised that we had this few [fans come],” MaryPat said. “I expected at least half full.”

Sophomore forward Michael Young said that, as a player, one can’t and doesn’t let the level of support affect performance at all. 

“You go out there and you play, packed house or nobody in the gym,” Young, who had eight points and seven rebounds, said. “I mean, you want to see your fans out there, but you still gotta go out there, play hard, try to win the game.”

For most of the contest, it seemed like Pitt (19-15, 8-10 ACC) was having difficulty doing either task, as it suffered through one of its worst performances of the season before eventually falling 60-54 in a season-ending defeat.

“It’s frustrating,” Pete Swauger said. “You wonder how much they really care about the game.”

Trailing 28-23 at half, the fourth-seeded hosts put forth their third-lowest scoring output of the season, behind only 50 against NC State in January and 49 against Virginia last month. 

But they also made close to half of their shot attempts, going 22-45 from the field. Turnovers stood out as the cause of their ills, amassing their second-highest, single-game number all season with 16. Junior point guard James Robinson, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds, was left pondering the cause of the uncharacteristic sloppiness. 

“Just kind of got contagious for us, we were kind of careless with the ball, especially early,” Robinson said.  “It came back to hurt us.”

Booing, though unclear whether in response to officiating, the action on the court or both, began to echo through the arena with GW (22-12, 10-8 A-10) up by five with just over three minutes remaining. 

Though the 32-team NIT possesses a literal runner-up status to the 68-team NCAA Tournament, Robinson said he and his teammates didn’t lack motivation for this game and had practiced well leading up to it. 

“No, not at all. We prepared well for the game,” he said. “We just didn’t get it done.”

The visitors led for the majority of play — 27:26 to Pitt’s 8:17 — and never trailed after halftime. George Washington’s junior guard Kethan Savage finished the match with a game-high 14 points. 

“We definitely don’t want our season to end. We have a lot to play for still,” Savage said. “Getting up for this game was no problem for any of us.” 

Coming late in the first half, Pitt’s largest lead was five points.

Head coach Jamie Dixon said he felt that his team’s focus was where it needed to be, and that its energy was high against the fifth-seeded Colonials. He cited the victory of the rebounding battle (41-35) over the Atlantic 10 school as well as coming back to tie the score at 36 with 14:30 left after trailing by nine just four and a half minutes before. He said both were usually indicators of competitiveness.

“It’s not like the team ever quit,” Dixon said. “There was definite frustration during the game. [But] It was not, like, a lack of intensity.” 

Young agreed.

“We just didn’t get it done,” Young said. “We just didn’t get it done.”