BOSTON – Judging by the way Pitt’s last two contests had gone, it was just the type of game… BOSTON – Judging by the way Pitt’s last two contests had gone, it was just the type of game the Panthers wanted to be playing.
With 5.5 seconds remaining and down by two, their star senior point guard, Levance Fields, was at the line to shoot two free throws. The mood in the arena? Fields would hit the free throws, Villanova would miss a last-second prayer and the game would be decided in overtime.
That was right for the most part, but most people likely didn’t take into account Scottie Reynolds, who did his best Fields impression, scoring with 0.5 seconds left to lift Villanova to a 78-76 win and a Final Four appearance.
It wasn’t just the loss or the heartbreaking way in which it happened that stood out the most as Fields’ full-court toss bounced harmlessly off the backboard. At least it wasn’t the thing that stood out the most for Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who had to say goodbye to his seniors Tyrell Biggs, Sam Young and Fields — the most successful, winningest class in Pitt history.
‘I think they did so much for our program,’ said Dixon. ‘They set records, as we’ve talked about, but they also left a legacy and left our young guys with something to build on.’
A major piece of that legacy is Young, who went from nearly transferring out of Pitt after his sophomore season to becoming an All-American and Pitt’s leading scorer in his last two years. With the help of Dixon and the coaching staff, Young stayed at Pitt and worked on his versatility and leadership. It paid off, as he moved into fourth place on Pitt’s all-time scoring list on Saturday.
It’s players like that, says Dixon, who are proof of what hard work can do.
‘We pride ourselves in the number of most improved players in the Big East and he’s another representative of that,’ said Dixon. ‘People now that remember him from high school just are amazed by his development and improvement. It comes from hard work. It comes from the determination that he has. And you need to start with that first.’
Like Young, Fields’ career ended in a positive way. The senior was the hero during Thursday night’s win against Xavier, and hit key shots during the first round of the Tournament to help Pitt beat Oklahoma State.
But the third senior, Biggs, hasn’t had as good of luck in his career.
Villanova held Biggs scoreless on Saturday night. In what was supposed to be his breakout year, Biggs averaged 6.4 points per game and was overshadowed by Young, Fields and sophomore center DeJuan Blair.
It was obviously nothing the Pitt players were happy about. Fields, Young and Blair answered questions alongside Dixon at the podium, but struggled to find their words and all seemed choked up at several different times.
At one point, a reporter asked a question to both Blair and Fields. Fields answered, but there was only silence to his right. Eventually, Blair simply stood up, looked around and walked off the podium. Fields and Young followed slowly behind him. It was obvious to everyone in the room how badly each of them wanted the trip to Detroit and the chance to bring home a title.
But as upset as all the players were, there were no excuses and not a trace of complaining.
‘They’ll kill you on the court,’ said Villanova coach Jay Wright, ‘But they’re classy. They’re a Final-Four-caliber team, anyone could have won that game. We’re proud to be a part of the Big East with them, and we feel for them because we could have been in the same spot very easily.’
Whether that’s the case or not, the Wildcats are the team advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1985. Pitt, while matching a school-high in wins and advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams, is left with a sour taste.
Many Pitt fans will likely wonder if Saturday was the last time Blair will sport a Pitt uniform. With his dominance down the stretch in Big East play, the 6-foot-7 big man earned the attention of NBA scouts across the country. He’s listed by some services as a possible top-15 pick.
But at the moment, that’s nothing that Blair or Dixon wants to consider.
‘I think that’s something that’s probably not a good time — not the right time to be thinking about,’ said Dixon. ‘I think this is about our kids. I’m more focused on my three seniors right now and their careers.’