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No. 11 Louisville utilizes late run to down Panthers - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

No. 11 Louisville utilizes late run to down Panthers

Emily+Klenk+%7C+Staff+Photographer+
Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

By Chris Puzia / Contributing Editor

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While Pitt opened both halves of Wednesday’s matchup strong, its opponent heated up when it mattered most — at the end of the game.

Despite leading for more than 23 minutes and receiving a career performance from forward Ryan Luther, Pitt men’s basketball dropped a home matchup to No. 11 Louisville Wednesday night, 67-60.

Luther finished with a game-high 17, including some key 3-pointers, but Louisville made its final nine baskets to lock up its second win over Pitt (19-8, 8-7 ACC) of the season. Luther said allowing a scoring run that late makes it tough to overcome any opponent.

“You can’t win many games when you give up the last nine buckets,” Luther said.

Pitt utilized a balanced offense — four players scored in double figures — but could not find the key shots it needed late. Dixon emphasized one point in the game — when Pitt led 48-40 with 9:11 left — where the team began to break down.

“When you’ve got an eight-point lead, you’ve got to finish it off, I don’t care who it is,” Dixon said. “Simply put, we didn’t. We didn’t get to the line when we needed to, we didn’t execute and we didn’t get stops.”

After that point, the Cardinals outscored the Panthers 27-12 to come back and win.

Damion Lee, Louisville’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, heated up on offense after a quiet first half, scoring six points and cutting Pitt’s lead back to five with a 3-pointer.

Still, Pitt had opportunities late. It trailed by just three points with under two minutes left, but Jamel Artis and James Robinson missed back-to-back shots, and Louisville hit its free throws to seal the victory.

“We’ve got to execute better down the stretch,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to guard one-on-one at the end, because that’s really where they beat us.”

Still, Pitt started the game hot, seemingly using the energy from the blue and gold shirt-clad Petersen Events Center crowd.

Pitt scored on each of its first four possessions. Robinson pushed the pace on a missed Louisville shot and hit Artis for a transition three to go up 9-2.

Louisville responded with a 6-0 run, with Jaylen Johnson working against Sheldon Jeter in the post.

Jeter was the team’s first substitution, but he picked up two quick fouls, forcing Dixon to cut his first-half minutes.

Luther ended a 12-1 Cards run by hitting a three to bring Pitt back within one. A couple possessions later, Luther pump faked at the top of the key and drove, drawing a foul and hitting the basket.

“Ryan probably had the best performance of anybody out there,” Dixon said. “He played well and gave us pretty good defense.”

Robinson broke a 3:33 scoreless stretch for both teams when he drove to the hoop and drew a foul, nailing both free throws. Pitt maintained a narrow lead most of the half, with Robinson’s shots extending it to 29-26.

Two last-minute baskets gave Louisville a 33-29 halftime advantage. Pitt shot 13 more free throws than the visitors, but turned the ball over nine times compared to Louisville’s four.

But Pitt regained the lead in the first two minutes of the second half with a Rafael Maia dunk, fast-break Robinson layup and Artis three.

Luther drove the home crowd to its feet and chanting his name, hitting an open three and drawing a foul on back-to-back possessions. His efforts, plus a Chris Jones jumper, helped Pitt open up a 48-40 lead on a 9-0 run.

The Cardinals responded with a quick 8-0 run of their own, bookended by Lee and David Levitch threes.

After that point, Pitt could not keep up with the surging Louisville offense. Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he was especially proud of his team, considering injuries and foul trouble forced him to reach deeper into his bench than usual.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of a basketball team as I am of this one. I feel like a proud father,” Pitino said. “We have three frontcourt players out, and we’re playing two walk-ons in the first half, and they didn’t lose anything.”

For Dixon, the problems were simple: His team did not execute in areas it usually would call strengths.

“We’re a good free throw shooting team, we didn’t shoot well from the line. We’re a good 3-point shooting team, we don’t shoot well from three,” Dixon said. The Panthers shot 67 percent from the stripe and 22 percent from deep.

Pitt has now lost all six games it’s played against ranked opponents, with five of those teams sitting in the top 12 in the country.

The Panthers will get another chance, though, when they next face No. 15 Duke at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Petersen Events Center.

Dixon said the key to preparing for the next game is moving on from the emotions of Wednesday’s loss.

“If you’re as good as we think we are, you need to win one of these games,” Dixon said. “I was telling them in the locker room, ‘This is how you respond from a loss.’”

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No. 11 Louisville utilizes late run to down Panthers