I got more into that game than I expected. I was trying to be mellow about it. Not take it too seriously. Just try and observe players, but mid-way through the first half I was shouting at the TV, fired-up up about the game and really wanting Pitt to win. It had nothing to do with last year. It was simply that I was watching Pitt play a competitive game and I wanted my team to get the win. I hope I never lose that kind of reaction.
This was a gritty win for Pitt. One that had a plenty working against them. On the road, bad shooting, iffy officiating, defensive breakdowns. Unlike a lot of games this year, though, Pitt got to the other side with a win.
Yes, it helped that Butler was hideous at the free throw line, but that sort of balanced out the one-way officiating. That aspect was extremely frustrating that Butler players could just throw themselves at Pitt inside and toss the ball in the air — and draw foul calls. Pitt players were standing straight, arms straight. And the foul would still be called. I don’t blame the Butler team for doing it all game. I blame the officials for giving them the reason to keep doing it.
It wasn’t pretty at times. Gibbs could not hit anything in the first half (0-6), and barely tried to shoot in the second half (0-2) — and did not attempt a single 3-point shot in the game. In the second half, you could see that the rest of the team was not even looking to get him the ball. There was a sullenness about him. I don’t know if it is still frustration at the season, or being in the CBI (some people who attended the first couple CBI games at the Pete have indicated that Gibbs had looked disinterested). It was disappointing, to be polite.
Pitt stayed in the game in the first half, mainly behind J.J. Moore with a little help from Talib Zanna and Cameron Wright. Zanna’s improved play in the CBI — combined with yet another spurt of Dante Taylor playing no defense (which led to his 2 quick fouls) — led to Zanna getting the start in the second half. Zanna finished the game with 15 points and 8 rebounds. While he is still not good on defense, he could at least keep up with Smith and avoid the dumb fouls from being late getting to defensive position.
Taylor simply could not handle a mobile big man with range. Butler’s Andrew Smith moved around the court. In general, Pitt struggled with it. In the second half, Pitt did a lot more of having Nas, Patterson and Moore on the court together to stay with the constant motion of Butler’s offense.
It did seem that the poor shooting would doom Pitt in the second half. Then Lamar Patterson really stepped up. During the season, there was some question about his play late in the game. Questions about how he responded to the pressure. He hasn’t answered them well. This time, though, he was huge.
In the final 2:11 of regulation, he had a steal and 5 of the 6 points — including a clutch 3 — to tie the game and send it to OT. In OT he had 5 more points, an assist, a block and rebound. Woodall also stepped up in the final minute — after a frustrating first 39 — and in overtime. Along with Moore, the three of them appear to be taking the reins of this team for next year. They are going to be counted on to be leaders on this team, and they seem to be ready to embrace it. (I hope.)
Now it’s on to the CBI Championship series (PDF). A 3-game set that has Pitt playing Washington State. Pitt will travel to Pullman for the first game on Monday night at 10 pm eastern on HDNet. The next game and third if necessary, will be at the Pete at 7pm on Wednesday and Friday. If Pitt wins, the trophy can go right into storage. Only to be brought out as a reminder to the players at the start of next season — this is not the goal.