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March 20, 2006

Lots and lots of stories. Not many that can make you feel too good in the aftermath. Let’s get the runaround.

The story of Bradley’s success started with their big man inside.

O’Bryant was the catalyst for the Braves, who haven’t advanced this far in the tournament since 1954. O’Bryant was 10 for 17 from the field and got the better of Pitt’s 7-footer Aaron Gray. Gray, a first-team all-Big East Conference selection who averaged a double-double for the season, scored 12 points and had a season-low four rebounds.

“That was my ‘A’ game right there,” O’Bryant said. “I think I played a great game.”

Gray picked up two early fouls and could not get into the flow offensively or defensively. He sat out 12 minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul, and he picked up his third foul early in the second half after slamming the ball to the floor out of frustration after being called for five seconds.

Gray’s technical foul proved to be the turning point. Pitt led by one when it was called, but Bradley used the momentum for a 19-4 run in which it took control of the game.

“Obviously, I could have played better, I should have played better,” a distraught Gray said afterward. “I definitely had to play more tentative than I would have liked. I wanted to be more aggressive in the second half, but I picked up that cheap technical that got me my third foul. Obviously, I wasn’t playing the most aggressive I could have, and he definitely took advantage of that.”

Bradley outrebounded Pitt, 40-38, and got 16 offensive rebounds against the usually hard-nosed and defensive-minded Panthers. The Braves were quicker to loose balls and more aggressive in the lane.

Gray was never in his game. He committed obviousdumb fouls in the first half, and was visibly frustrated by both his early misses and O’Bryant’s shots falling. Gray missed his first 3 shot attempts within the first 5 minutes of the game.

The Technical Foul called on Gray was a big swing in emotion and momentum according to all.

Gray, working against O’Bryant on the block, was cited for a 5-second call before being assessed his third foul on a technical after he slammed the ball to the floor in frustration.

“Obviously, the technical foul gave them momentum,” Krauser said. “They gained a lot of energy off that play.”

Sommerville made both free throws, sparking a 9-0 Bradley spurt that ultimately led to a 19-4 run and gave the Braves a 14-point lead — their largest of the game — at 53-39 with 8:52 remaining.

“It showed we were starting to frustrate them a lot and they might have gotten a call or two that didn’t go their way and it just made them more mad,” O’Bryant said.

And that was something Bradley had been counting on.

Bradley appeared to feed of the technical. More accurately, it fed off Pitt’s frustration.

Coach Jim Les planned for it.

“We said, ‘When you see a level of frustration, we’re going to turn it up another notch with our pressure,’ ” Les said. “I think we took (the technical) as part of the cue that it’s time.”

There were some questions by Coach Dixon regarding the 5 second call itself.

As the possession unfolded, Gray appeared to be angry at guard Ronald Ramon for not clearing out and letting Gray go one-on-one against Bradley center Patrick O’Bryant. Gray later confirmed as much but also said Ramon made a smart play by giving him an outlet after Ramon’s man went to double-team Gray.

“He was doing the right thing,” Gray said. “I was just frustrated.”

Pitt coaches said the referee on their side of the court never began a 5-second count as Gray held the ball on the low block. Had a count started, the coaches could have yelled to Gray — who was near the Pitt bench — to pass.

“What was strange was there was no count,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

Bill Raftery, bless his Big East biased heart, thought the technical shouldn’t have been called. So did Joe Starkey.

Referee Scott Thornley’s ticky tacky technical-foul call on Pitt’s Aaron Gray was another. It happened early in the second half with the Panthers leading 35-34 and completely turned momentum.

As an NCAA spokesman later explained, spiking the ball — as Gray did — is not an automatic technical. Thornley should have used better judgment and let it go. It was a rotten way to slap a third personal foul on Gray, who was obviously agitated with teammate Ronald Ramon and not trying to show up the referees.

Let the players determine the outcome.

I disagree. I think they had to call it. He didn’t just slam the ball on the court and hold it there. Nor did he spike and grab it. He spiked it hard and high to the rafters. I don’t think you can let that pass unexcused. Yes, it was frustration at himself, not the call, but it has to be called when the ball flies like that.

I do agree with Starkey that it had as much to do with Bradley being the better team and this about Marcellus Sommerville:

Move away from the center matchup and ask yourself this: Who was the best player on the court?

If your answer isn’t “Marcellus Sommerville,” try again. Sommerville, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior forward, killed Kansas on Friday and had 14 second-half points yesterday. He scored nine during a 19-4 run in which Bradley took control.

Sommerville took a long road to Bradley. He was a top-ranked JUCO, but before that he had been a recruit and played a season at Iowa. There was a lot more talent on that Bradley team than realized.

Even Smizik says that Bradley was the better team. He also continues his complaints that Pitt needs shooters not athletes and playing defense.

As so often has been the case in big NCAA tournament games, Pitt didn’t have the offensive answer for Bradley. Coach Jamie Dixon’s emphasis on defense and rebounding holds the team in good stead in the Big East. But out of the league, the Panthers become the lesser team.

In 2002, Pitt lost to Kent State of the Mid-American Conference; in ’03 to Marquette, then in Conference USA; in ’05 to Pacific of the Big West Conference; and this year to Bradley of the Missouri Valley Conference. That’s not supposed to happen to Big East teams.

But when you gear up to win on defense and rebounding sometimes it’s hard to have offensive answers to talented teams. The Dixon-Ben Howland approach has taken the Panthers further than anyone might have expected at the start of their run. But they’re stuck as an early-round loser in the most important event of the season.

Maybe it’s time to tweak the formula. Maybe it’s time for Pitt to have an offensive answer of its own.

Yeah, it had nothing to do with being outrebounded — second chances on offense — and freethrow shooting. It had nothing to do with poor positioning and not getting to the looseballs. It’s about offense. So what if Pitt actually shot better than Bradley.

Still no word on what is ailing Keith Benjamin. And some of the final numbers for Krauser.

Krauser had 17 points, 5 assists and 6 turnovers and finished his career in ninth place on Pitt’s all-time scoring list with 1,642 points. In his four playing seasons, Krauser had a 104-27 record with four NCAA tournament appearances, becoming one of only three players in school history to play in four NCAA tournaments.

“This is the best five years I spent anywhere in my life,” Krauser said. “I didn’t have anything but one book bag when I got here. This was a city known for football and we turned it into a nationally known basketball program. I’m proud of my achievements.”

He ended that statement with a little something else.

“We turned a football school into a school known for basketball, but there’s a lot of winning left for Levance and the kids to do.”

Good luck to Carl Krauser.

As for the team and next year, the first order of business is getting Coach Dixon’s extension hammered out before Arizona State, Missouri or anyone else come calling.

[…] For Pitt, though, it is overemphasized because they had nothing left for the NCAA Tournament. Really, if Smizik was going to recycle a column, I would have expected his 2006 complaint about Pitt not being a good shooting team. You know, because they were too focused on defense and rebounding. He couldn’t complain about it in 2005, because Pitt lost in the first round of the BET. Don’t worry, he doubled it up in 2004, with focus on the unimportance of the BET and the regular season title, but then complained about how flawed Pitt was after losing the BET. […]

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