Pitt’s season ends with first-round NIT loss to George Washington

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Pitt’s season ends with first-round NIT loss to George Washington

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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The NIT run seemed to end as quickly as it began.

The Pitt men’s basketball team’s run in the National Invitation Tournament was a short one, as the George Washington Colonials eliminated the Panthers 60-54 at the Petersen Events Center Tuesday evening, ending Pitt’s 2014-2015 campaign.

The loss marks the fifth-straight defeat to end the season for the Panthers.

“I feel like we just didn’t get it done,” Pitt sophomore forward Michael Young said of the loss. “It might be puzzling to you all, but to us, we just didn’t get it done.”

Pitt jumped out to the first lead of the game as, following a steal, senior guard Cameron Wright contorted his body to convert a lay-up in traffic.

But George Washington’s Kethan Savage responded and converted two consecutive 3-point field goals to give the Colonials a 10-6 lead.

Pitt then went on an 11-2 run, grabbing a 17-12 lead with 7:12 remaining in the half.

Jumpstarted by a long two by Savage, the Colonials answered with a 10-0 run of their own, leading by five with less than four minutes remaining in the half.

Sophomore forward Sheldon Jeter helped trim Pitt’s deficit to 22-21 after two straight low-post baskets, but George Washington once again responded with a 7-0 run of its own. 

Sophomore guard Chris Jones made a layup in the closing seconds of the half, narrowing the deficit to 28-23 heading into intermission.

The half marked an uncharacteristically sloppy one for a team that averages the eighth-fewest turnovers per game in the nation, as Pitt turned the ball over 10 times — the team only averaged 9.7 per game entering Tuesday’s action. The Panthers ended the game with 16 turnovers.

The turnovers directly aided the visiting team’s cause, as George Washington converted those turnovers into 20 points.

Pitt junior point guard James Robinson couldn’t pinpoint precisely why the team struggled the way it did with holding on to the basketball.

“I wish I knew [the cause of the turnovers],” Robinson said. ”We were kind of careless with the ball, especially early. It led to baskets for them in transition.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon also expressed his displeasure in the team’s propensity for mistakes.

“We’re a low turnover team, and tonight we weren’t,” Dixon said. “Some of the passes, some of the decisions we made were not what we normally do.”

The Colonials opened the second half hot, scoring the first four points of the period and extending their lead to nine — their largest of the evening.

Pitt began to show some life later in the half, as sophomore forward Jamel Artis connected on his third consecutive basket to cut GW’s lead to 36-34 with 14:55 remaining in the game. 

Jones amped up the sparse weeknight crowd 25 seconds later, converting a layup to tie the game at 36-36, but that was the closest the Panthers came to regaining the lead.

The team inched closer with time winding down, as Artis converted one of two free throws with just over a minute of play left, bringing his team within two points. But Savage found an open look on the Colonials’ next possession, receiving a gratuitous roll on his jumper with :43 seconds remaining, effectively icing the game for George Washington.

Pitt struggled mightily from the free-throw line after intermission, shooting an abysmal 7-16, 43.8 percent.

“The free throws wore on us, as far as not knocking them down,” Dixon said.

In his final game, Wright struggled from the charity stripe, shooting just 3-9. He did, however, shoot 4-6 from the field, leading Pitt with 11 points.

Neither team shot particularly well in the game, as George Washington shot 34 percent from the field compared to Pitt’s 49 percent. The Colonials won the game, however, partly because of a 14-6 differential in offensive rebounds. George Washington also recorded 10 steals compared to Pitt’s one.

Savage led all scorers with 17 points. George Washington’s junior guard Patricio Garino chipped in with 14 points as well.

“We’re a better team than how we played,” Dixon said. “But as I told the guys, this is how we performed.”

With the loss, the Panthers finished the season with a 19-15 record, the worst mark ever by a Jamie Dixon team. It is also the first time in Dixon’s career that his team did not win more than 20 games in a season. Pitt had multiple chances to accomplish that goal, but it ended the season on a five-game losing streak, including a loss in its first ACC Tournament game to North Carolina State.

Pitt opens the 2015-2016 season in Okinawa, Japan, as the team will take part in the Armed Forces Classic against Gonzaga on Friday, Nov. 13.

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