Men’s Basketball: Led by Robinson’s career-high 26 points, Panthers win eighth straight and are 5-0 in Big East play

By Adam Littman

With 1.9 seconds remaining in the game and the Pitt men’s basketball team trailing Louisville… With 1.9 seconds remaining in the game and the Pitt men’s basketball team trailing Louisville 69-67, Brad Wanamaker stood at the free throw and the previously boisterous Petersen Events Center went silent as the junior prepared to take two free throws.

Members of the Oakland Zoo were behind the basket, arms raised and fingers moving up and down like they were all typing, and Wanamaker sank both free throws to tie the game. On the inbounds pass, Louisville’s Edgar Sosa front-rimmed a shot from well behind half court to send the game into overtime.

In the extra period, the No. 20 Panthers (15-2, 5-0 Big East) out-scored the Cardinals (12-6, 3-2 Big East) 13-8, giving Pitt an 82-77 victory, its eighth in a row.

Wanamaker’s free throws capped a flurry of events that helped Pitt comeback from a four-point deficit with 17 seconds to go.

“With shooters like Ashton [Gibbs] and Brad, I knew we could get some buckets,” Pitt forward Nasir Robinson said. “We never thought the game was over.”

Louisville’s lead could’ve been more than four, but Edgar Sosa missed two free throws late in the game. On the ensuing Pitt possession, Jermaine Dixon drove to the hoop, but had his shot swatted into the first row by Louisville’s Samardo Samuels. On the inbounds pass from Dixon, Wanamaker stood all alone in the left corner and knocked down a 3-pointer, his only attempt from beyond the arc all game.

“Ashton and me crossed, and with Ashton being the shooter they followed him and left me open,” Wanamaker said.

With Pitt pressing the Cardinals down 68-67, Sosa snuck free and appeared to have an easy lay-up on the fast break. Right as he jumped, Gilbert Brown chased him down from behind and fouled him with 11.7 seconds remaining. Sosa made just one of two free throws, giving Louisville a 69-67 lead.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game, but just couldn’t get it done at the end,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

The Panthers didn’t have any timeouts remaining, so they had to go the length of the floor. Gibbs dribbled up court and launched a three from the top of the arc. It was blocked by a Cardinal defender, and went out of bounds 3.7 seconds to go in the game.

Wanamaker received the inbounds pass from underneath the hoop, dribbled to the top of the key and was fouled by Jerry Smith, his first of the game.

“We should never foul in that situation,” Pitino said.

So then, with just 1.9 seconds remaining in the game, Wanamaker lined up for he called “by far” the toughest free throws he’s ever taken.

“Ashton told me to pretend like nobody was there and I was shooting at practice,” Wanamaker said. “I took the advice.”

While Pitt last led 49-48 with 8:44 to go in the second half, the Panthers jumped out to an early lead in overtime. The first basket was a 3-pointer by Gibbs, and on the next possession Dixon hit a step-back jumped to give Pitt a 74-69 lead.

Louisville didn’t fade, though, and after a 3-pointer by Preston Knowles, Pitt’s lead was down to 78-77 with 24.8 seconds left in overtime. After breaking the press and getting the ball past halfcourt, Gibbs was fouled and hit both free throws, bringing the lead back up to three.

On Louisville’s last possession, Jared Swopshire hoisted up a contested three that hit the rim. Wanamaker collected the rebound and dished to a streaking Dixon all alone on the other end of the court for a wide open finger roll to clinch the 82-77 victory.

“We can play with anybody in the country,” Dixon said.

Wanamaker matched his season- and career-high with 20 points, which he also scored Dec. 19 in Pitt’s 66-48 victory against Mount St. Mary’s.

Pitt’s leading scorer was Robinson, who netted a career-high 26 points to go with his game-high 11 rebounds.

“He plays so hard,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He brings so much energy to the floor.”

Robinson shot 11-of-14 from the field, and showed a versatile offensive game, making an array of shots including a left-handed layup, a turnaround jumper and acrobatic layup where he leapt and then ducked under a defender’s arm.

“After I made my first shot I felt like I was in grove, so I just went with it,” he said.

A big reason Louisville held a lead late was because the Panthers couldn’t find anyone on defense to guard Samuels. Pitt had Robinson and Gary McGhee alternate guarding the 6-foot-9 forward, but Samuels seemed to do whatever he wanted down low no matter who was attempting to stop him.

“He’s as good as any post guy in the country,” Dixon said.

Samuels finished with 25 points and six rebounds.

“He’s the guy we always want to have the ball,” Pitino said.

Knowles also had a big game on offense for the Cardinals, scoring 21 points and hitting 5-of-7 3-pointers.

Coming into the game, Louisville was second in the conference averaging 17 offensive rebounds a game, but the Panthers held them to just 11. The Panthers out-rebounded Louisville 40-26.

Both teams racked up 20 assists, but the Panthers had 14 turnovers to Louisville’s 10. The Cardinals scored 20 points off Pitt turnovers, while the Panthers scored 14. Pitt did get better in the second half, though, turning the ball over 10 times before the break and just four after.

“That’s been the key to our success all year: adjusting,” Wanamaker said. “In the first half we see things thrown at us and then we adjust in the second.”

Louisville hung around with the Panthers also thanks to 3-point shooting. The Cardinals made 9-of-25 shots from beyond the arc. Pitt was, however, more efficient from downtown, hitting 4-8 3-point attempts.

The Panthers had the advantage on the free throw line, shooting 24-30, or 80 percent. Louisville made 10-of-17 free throws, just 58.8 percent. Wanamaker led Pitt, connecting on 11 of his 12 free throws. Gibbs went 4-4 from the line, Robinson made 4-of-6 and Dante Taylor went 3-4.

As is life in the Big East, the Panthers don’t have much time to celebrate the comeback victory. They host No. 11 Georgetown (13-2, 4-1 Big East) at the Pete Wednesday night at 7 p.m. And even though the Panthers, along with No. 4 Villanova, are just one of two teams still undefeated in conference play, they think there is still room for improvement.

“I don’t think everybody’s been on the same page yet,” Jermaine Dixon said. “We haven’t played a complete game, and that’s scary for a lot of teams.”

Notes: The Panthers wore their gold uniforms for the first time all season, and with the win are 3-0 all-time when adorned in all gold… Before making his first free throw, Nasir Robinson had missed 13 straight… Pitt is now 125-10 all-time at the Petersen Events Center since it opened in 2002. The road team to win there twice is Louisville.