I could only “watch” in the live gamecast. No noise. Nothing. Silent agony. I writhed and contorted in the chair as the score seemed more dire and time got shorter. Not even bothering with Twitter or anything outside of that single screen. Matching the silence from the “game,” I said nothing. No shouting at a miss that could have happened a minute, two minutes, seconds before. Just tense silence.
The sips of my double IPA becoming drinks, becoming gulps. No joy taken from the resiny nose and the flavor. It could have been anything, as long as it helped to dull the emotions. I’d pay for this later. The impotent frustration of not even being able to see what was going wrong.
Scanning and rescanning the box score. Looking to see if there was anything that gave a glimmer of hope. Extremely poor shooting from the outside. Oakland shooting well — or at least getting good looks it would seem. Were the Golden Grizzlies having a hot shooting night? Was the defense playing poorly? Was Oakland packing it in against Pitt, daring them to shoot jumpers? Was Pitt simply settling?
Trying to figure out if this was a let-down game after rolling Lehigh, or a look-past game as the team thought about the Wednesday game with Michigan and the trip to Madison Square Garden. Did it matter? It wasn’t looking like a win would happen. An inexplicable home loss to a good mid-major, but in the end still a team from the Summit League. A game that seemed like a mere formality to another good start. Set to become a debacle.
And then Pitt started closing the gap. It did not feel like a mad, manic rush. It was in fits and starts. Inching closer, stumbling back. Hitting a couple big shots only to see enough of an Oakland response to make the game seem just out of reach. There just didn’t seem to be enough time.
No one would have blamed any of the 9,710 in attendance Saturday night if they had bolted for the exits early. Not with the home team playing poorly and trailing by nearly three touchdowns. But almost no one left, and, in the end, they were rewarded for their loyalty.
Three seasons after recording epic comebacks against Louisville and West Virginia at Petersen Events Center, the Panthers did it again Saturday night with a miraculous, 72-62 overtime victory against Oakland University of the Summit League.
Pitt trailed by 14 at halftime and by 18 with 11:35 remaining. It was the largest halftime deficit overcome in school history. The only better second-half comeback was when the Panthers rallied from 22 down to beat Purdue in 1960.
Tray Woodall played in those comeback victories against Louisville and West Virginia. He said this victory was more satisfying in some ways.
“When you think about it, the West Virginia game was a much longer game and much more exhausting,” Woodall said. “With this new team, we have a bunch of young players, and this shows we have character. We didn’t shoot well at all. We didn’t defend well at all. The one thing we did do was fight and show character.”
The shooting improved a little. A few more shots hit. Free throw shooting went a little better. That you could see in the stats. From an Oakland team hitting nearly 60% in the first half (while Pitt was around 30%), you knew the numbers for Oakland would drop and pitt’s would rise. But it did not happen fast enough. Especially the Pitt offense which couldn’t make a significant dent in the 14 point halftime lead for the first 9 minutes of the second half.
But, it was the defense. More aggressive. More mistakes being forced.
Woodall revealed there is an ongoing debate within the staff on utilizing the full-court press following Pitt’s 72-62 comeback win against Oakland. Apparently, one coach would like to use it more while another takes the opposing view.
Woodall was asked a question about Pitt forcing four turnovers in the final 37 seconds of regulation against Oakland. He then volunteered the following: “One coach who shall remain nameless doesn’t want us to press much and another coach who shall remain nameless wants us to press more.”
An educated guess is that head coach Jamie Dixon is the coach who does not want to press as much. He has never been a proponent of the press unless his team is trailing and even then it’s only been implemented late in games.
The Panthers, who are concentrating on creating more turnovers, forced 18 Saturday night. Eleven of those came in the second half and overtime. At least half of those second-half miscues were caused by the press.
It will be interesting to see if the Panthers go to the press more often after having so much success with it against Oakland.
This is the first time under Dixon where they have the players and the depth to press. One or the other has always been lacking to press for extended periods.
The depth was the big saving grace for Pitt. On a night that saw Steven Adams struggle to stay on the court. Where Lamar Patterson continues his really, really poor start to the season in shooting. Where Woodall’s shot was completely off. Dante Taylor and J.J. Moore were tremendous off the bench. Embracing their roles, rather than starting, they led Pitt to storming back for this game.
Reserve forward J.J. Moore led the Panthers (4-0) with 16 points, including five in overtime. Another reserve made some clutch plays at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. Dante Taylor scored off offensive rebounds with 37 seconds and 28 seconds left to cut the lead to two.
Taylor was in the game because freshman starter Steven Adams had four fouls and played only 17 minutes. Taylor was 6 for 7 from the field and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
“He’s been playing so well,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s a good scorer. He’s a great person and a great teammate. He is a very good player.”
Moore also led the team in rebounding with 10 to notch a double-double. Rebounding stats were a little skewed considering how badly Pitt shot most of the games. Pitt ended up with 18 offensive rebounds — which will happen when you shoot 42% overall.
Once Pitt managed to get the game tight in the final minutes, Oakland began to crack. Not simply from the pressure defense, but the pressure of the game. Oakland turned the ball over 8 times in the final 3 minutes of the second half. By the time they got to overtime, they had nothing left emotionally or in depth. Both Drew Valentine — their senior forward — and Duke Mondy — a transfer from Providence — had fouled out. Pitt ran away in OT.
“Not your typical 10-point win, that’s for sure,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We battled, I guess that’s the most important thing.”
The winning kind of matters as well.