January 22, 2007

For Marquette this was another road win. Their third and their biggest in the Big East this season. They may be one game back of Pitt in the wins-and-losses within the conference, but they only have 4 road games left while Pitt has 6. The Golden Eagles are feeling good about things after their shaky conference start. With 3 of their next 4 at home and the only road game to USF, they have an excellent chance to be 8-2 going into their game against Georgetown.

Pitt has to be frustrated despite a 2-1 homestand that saw them beat Georgetown and UConn. Despite poor 3-point shooting, turnovers and so many other things they did wrong, Pitt made a comeback.

Aaron Gray, playing with a sore right wrist, had 16 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes. But the Big East preseason player of the year went 2 for 8 from the free-throw line, the most costly a pair of misses with Pitt leading, 72-71, and 2:20 to play in overtime.

Antonio Graves had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, but he went 1 for 7 from 3-point range. Mike Cook scored 11 points, but he had four turnovers and fouled out with 1:52 to play.

Kendall had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists, but he shot 3 of 8 from the field and turned the ball over with 25 seconds left in overtime.

Sophomore point guard Levance Fields had two points and four assists, fouling out with 12.9 seconds to play in regulation.

To some the script was all wrong for the game, at least in the OT. The coverage of the game from Aaron Gray’s hometown paper was quite Gray-centric, and makes for some bemused reading (Minor annoying factual error/gaffe. Pitt outrebounded Marquette 39-29. The article says, “The smaller Golden Eagles also outrebounded Pitt, 28-26.” That would be a comparison of the fouls called on each side)
In what can only be considered some frustration with the way the game went and not wanting to answer questions about the wrist, Aaron Gray didn’t comment to the press. I do think Marquette overestimates their impact on Pitt by doubling down on Gray for most of the game.

“We did a great job of taking away the easy pass,” Marquette guard Jerel McNeal said. “In the second half, we really took him out of the game, and it threw their offense for a loop.”

I credit their defense for the way they covered the perimeter and contesting the 3s, that was really what made a bigger difference. A large bit of the problems passing to the fact that Levance Fields suffered some serious foul problems to play only 27 minutes in regulation and none of the OT. When the starting PG struggles, to even be in the game it stands to reason that passing the ball — especially getting it inside — is going to suffer.

Gray’s disappearance during the game and afterwards was noted by Gene Collier.

“We tried to get the ball down to him, but they were kind of double-teaming him,” said Ramon, whose clutch free throws finally pulled Pitt even with 3.5 seconds left in regulation, ending a quest through which Marquette held the lead for more than 33 minutes. “The fact is, we weren’t getting open ourselves.”

Ramon rallied this team repeatedly with his 3-pointers, going 4 for 6 (he has converted eight in his past 10 attempts). Everybody else shot 1 for 12 from long range. With Levon Kendall shooting 3 for 8 from the floor and committing the final and most lethal of Pitt’s 18 turnovers, the Panthers had no inside game to go to.

“You can’t give them a steady diet of anything defensively because they’re too good at figuring it out,” Crean said of Marquette’s approach. “Plus, Gray is such a good passer. He’ll find the cutters, and he and Kendall — there can’t be two inside players many places who work so well together. Gray rebounds his misses so well — he did that to us six times in one game last year.

“It was really important that we focus on him.”

Yes, there’s a feeling Gray will be getting his share of the focus the next two months. How he handles it will be fairly crucial.

Collier also wrote a piece the day of the game about the team shooting with confidence outside of Ronald Ramon.

There’s no question that Dixon’s patterned multi-set offense is generating enough quality opportunities — it’s generally evident from that 17-2 record and the No. 6 national ranking. I’m just wondering what Pitt will do when it’s down by nine with 90 seconds left. It will have to have Ramon in the game. It will have to have Antonio Graves in the game. Probably Cook as well.

“I’m confident we can win that game,” Cook said. “I think this team can create a lot of good shots. I have tremendous confidence in our shooters, and I think our big guys can step out and hit a big shot too.

“It’s only January. There’s a lot of things we can work on, a lot of things we can get better at.”

It may not have been 90 seconds, but down 9 with 4 minutes left in the game Pitt went on a 13-4 run to tie the game. Cook, Ramon and Graves were the guys that scored the points for Pitt. The loss definitely overshadowed another excellent game from Ronald Ramon who played a very good game. Not just for making shots, but really doing a great job with the perimeter defense in the second half.
There were a lot of fouls called in this game, and 67 total free throws attempted. Pitt attempted more, but made less. Unlike in the UConn game where Pitt hit FTs at a 70% clip and UConn struggled.

We have a hard time when the Refs call a close game. We always have and we always will. I cringe every time I see Tim Higgins at the beginning of a game. He T’ed up Jamie and he and his crew will call it tight all the way. I just hope we don’t see this type of crew come March. If they let them play we will be fine.

Comment by Tony In Harrisburg 01.22.07 @ 10:57 am

I know this is over talked about, but is this the game that convinces Jamie that Ramon needs more minutes, and more shot opportunities. In my opinion he has been under utilized up until this game.

Comment by beapanther 01.22.07 @ 11:27 am

I think it’s more likely we *will* see refs just like this. Every year in the tourny we get a bunch from another conf. that doesn’t call games like refs in the Big East. It distrcats our game and we never end up playing well. It will happen again i’m sure. But I have to be honest, I see this team as an early out once again this year. That 0-3 record against ranked teams is really hard for me to get over. I think we will have to make a run at the end of the season and win the Big East (and hopefully that happens) before we can start believing this team will go far in March.

Comment by Eric R 01.22.07 @ 11:41 am

One more thing. Why is Cook getting a free pass most of the time. I’ve seen little comments here and there, but not what I would anticipate from someone that has played the way he has. He is not a team player, and often looks to take his man one on one every time he gets the ball. He looks great sometimes, but most of the time he forces up awful shots. What am I missing?

Comment by beapanther 01.22.07 @ 11:47 am

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