Men’s Basketball: Panthers comeback bid falls short in second round of NCAA Tournament

By Tony Jovenitti

MILWAUKEE — The game was following along the same path as last year.

It was… MILWAUKEE — The game was following along the same path as last year.

It was back and forth for the first 13 minutes, and then Xavier went on a big run to end the half. The Pitt men’s basketball team played from behind for nearly the entire second period and had a chance to win at the end, just like when the teams met in last year’s Sweet 16.

But this rematch took a left turn in its final minute. Instead of Pitt’s late-game heroics swishing through the basket, the ball clanked off the rim twice, and the Panthers’ season came to an abrupt end when they lost to Xavier 71-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament yesterday.

In a season that saw miraculous comebacks against Louisville and West Virginia and a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer against Providence, it was only fitting that Pitt ended the season with another last-minute comeback. Unlike the others, this one fell short.

Pitt trailed by seven with 27 seconds remaining, but Gilbert Brown hit two 3-pointers to pull Pitt within three.

When Xavier inbounded the ball, Brown was the only Panther player around to foul Terrell Holloway. Brown had no choice but to take his fifth foul and head to the bench. Holloway made both free throws, and again it looked like Pitt was done.

On the ensuing possession, Travon Woodall made a layup with 8 seconds remaining to pull the Panthers back within three.

When Xavier inbounded the ball, it was tipped to the corner. A scramble by both teams ended with the ball out of bounds. One referee signaled that it was Pitt’s ball, and the Pitt faithful in attendance roared.

But another referee overturned the call, giving it to Xavier, and Xavier’s much larger crowd drowned out the Panther fans.

Again, it looked like Pitt was done. But Dante Jackson missed both free throws after being fouled by Brad Wanamaker with 6.9 seconds remaining.

Ashton Gibbs, who was Pitt’s hero in the game against Providence, got an open look from the 3-point line as the clock neared zero. He put up the shot, but it bounced off the rim and out of bounds as the buzzer sounded, and the Panthers were surely eliminated.


Again, Pitt was given a chance when the referees reviewed the play and determined that the ball went out of bounds with 0.4 seconds left.

Pitt’s head coach Jamie Dixon quickly drew up a play. Wanamaker got a shot off before the buzzer, but it fell short.

And the Panthers will return to Pittsburgh from their ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance disappointed.

“I told [the players] how proud I am of them after the game and what they’ve done all year and how they battled even in this game,” Dixon said.

The Panthers executed the way Dixon wanted them to, but the shots just didn’t fall, he said.

“We did the things we wanted to do,” Dixon said. “We rebounded like we wanted to. But it just seemed like we didn’t make some of the shots tonight early on, and some layups we missed. That just put us in a hole.”

Pitt led 18-15 with 9:17 remaining in the first half. Gibbs had 10 points already — three more than his total against Oakland on Friday.

But Brown turned the ball over, and Xavier’s Jason Love made a jump shot to put Xavier on top. This triggered a 16-0 run for the Musketeers, and Pitt never led again.

Pitt went to the locker room trailing 35-28, and 18 of the team’s points came from Gibbs. Xavier adjusted, and Holloway defended Gibbs in the second half holding him to only one point.

“He did an amazing job,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “He was one of the big reasons we were able to win the game today because of his defense.”

Another big reason Xavier won was Jordan Crawford. He had 27 points, and Pitt couldn’t find a way to stop him.

He made three 3-pointers in the second half, one of which put the Musketeers up by 13 points.

“Crawford is a good player,” Wanamaker said. “Our job was to go out there and make him take tough shots. He made some tough shots.”

The Musketeers advanced to their third consecutive Sweet 16. Only Michigan State has been to the Sweet 16 for the past three years, including three years ago when the Spartans eliminated Pitt in the second round to get there.

With his 26th win, Mack ties the record for most wins by a first-year Xavier coach. He tied Thad Matta, who is also in the Sweet 16 after his Ohio State team defeated Georgia Tech 75-66 yesterday in Milwaukee.

Along with Chase Adams, playing his last game for Pitt was lone senior starter Jermaine Dixon, who scored two points and had three rebounds.