Burton buzzer-beater carries Pitt over St. John’s, 59-57, at the Garden


AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh

Pittsburgh guard Jamarius Burton (11) drives to the basket for his game-winning shot against St. John’s during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in New York. Burton’s runner with 0.4 seconds left lifted Pittsburgh over St. John’s 59-57 in the showcase game of the Gotham Classic.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

NEW YORK — Far too often already in this young season, victory slipped through the fingers of Pitt men’s basketball when the team had a win within its grasp. Finally, it was time for the Panthers to deliver a gut-punch instead of take one.

In Madison Square Garden — an arena that has housed great Pitt basketball moments from the Big East era — senior guard Jamarius Burton delivered not just a clutch shot, but a moment that head coach Jeff Capel hopes will help his team flip the script of an already arduous season.

Burton said postgame that he’s rehearsed that shot often, and his preparation kept the moment from overwhelming him.

“I work on midrange [shots] a lot,” Burton said. “So I always have that confidence.”

As Burton’s game-winning, pull-up jumper fell through the net with 0.4 seconds left and a half-court heave from St. John’s senior guard Montez Mathis fell wide at the buzzer, joy and relief overcame the Pitt bench. His last-second shot clinched a 59-57 win for the Panthers (4-7 overall, 0-1 ACC) over St. John’s (8-2 overall, 0-0 Big East) on Saturday afternoon in a de-facto home game for the Johnnies.

Twice, it looked like the Panthers were destined to let a close game slip away from them. Twice, they fought back to pull even.

While the Johnnies were down their leading scorer — junior forward Julian Champagnie, who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the game — Pitt also had to endure a long stretch of the game without its own leading scorer, sophomore forward John Hugley.

Hugley picked up his second foul in a span of less than 20 seconds, forcing Capel to recall his star big man to the bench. He exited in the midst of an 11-0 St. John’s run fueled by added defensive pressure. They double-teamed Hugley every time he touched the ball, employed a full-court press after made baskets and hedged hard on ball screens.

Pitt was down 10 as the first half clock wound down inside of 10 minutes. In similar fashion to the Virginia game on Dec. 3, it took care for them to claw back into the game, according to Capel.

“It reminded me a bit of Virginia,” Capel said. “We were able to gradually chip away. Obviously we had to value the basketball. We had to make good decisions. A lot of their points were coming off of those turnovers ,so I thought we did a better job for the rest of the half of protecting the basketball and that enabled us to get back in it.”

St. John’s appeared to have the Panthers on the ropes again in the second half. With Pitt trailing by five and 15:15 remaining in the game, sophomore guard Femi Odukale turned the corner on a ball screen and sought to flush a one-handed dunk right in junior center Joel Soriano’s face. Instead, Soriano rejected it and turned a potential Pitt score into a fast break for the Johnnies.

Sophomore guard Posh Alexander took the defensive rebound and shot down the court with Mathis running parallel. Alexander lofted an arcing pass over the heads of the Panther defenders, and Mathis slammed home a powerful dunk that electrified the decidedly pro-St. John’s crowd.

But Pitt refused to fold. They proceeded to score 11 of the game’s next 14 points and take a brief lead at 45-44 with 11:55 left in the contest.

A couple of buckets from first-year forward O’Mar Stanley and Alexander coincided with a stretch of four straight missed field goals by Pitt, allowing the Johnnies to take a four-point lead inside of the under-eight minute media timeout. The game had slowed to a snail’s pace at that point, making each point and possession precious.

St. John’s had every opportunity to put the Panthers away, but couldn’t capitalize on mistakes. Just as Pitt would commit a sloppy turnover or take a bad shot, the Johnnies would commit a similarly maddening miscue.

After Burton hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers up by two with two minutes remaining, neither team scored until sophomore forward William Jeffress and St. John’s sophomore guard Dylan Addae-Wusu exchanged free throws to knot the game at 57 with eight seconds remaining.

A timeout from Capel set up Burton’s winning play, in which theTexas Tech transfer sprinted down the court, took a ball screen from Hugley and converted the contested, fall-away shot to win the game.

Capel said postgame that contributions from up and down the roster helped pull out this win.

“There were so many big plays,” Capel said. “Mo Gueye got beat on a drive but he didn’t give into it. He pursued it. Not only did he make a heck of a block, but he saved it and got us another possession. Will Jeffress taking a big time charge — I mean there were so many plays down the stretch made by our guys where we were connected.”

With the win, the Panthers have gained some momentum ahead of a Dec. 21 contest vs. Jacksonville, the conclusion of non-conference play, and the beginning of ACC competition after Christmas, Capel said.

“Being able to come on the road — even though it’s a neutral site — we’re still in New York and this is St. John’s city,” Capel said. “We looked at it as a road game. To be able to come in here and to beat a really great team, it’s great. … This tells us what we can do if we stay together and we compete all the time.”

Pitt’s next game against Jacksonville at the Pete will top off on Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. and air on ACC Network Extra.