At least they didn’t go out like Duquesne. Ooof.
There was a brief period in the second half. Pitt had an energy that had all but disappeared before halftime. They were attacking the basket — and forcing Virginia to foul. The defense was showing effort. And Pitt pulled within 2 points barely 7 minutes into the second half.
This from a group that in the first half looked listless as the deficit grew. Whether it was being tired from the night before or simply ready to give-up. The energy from Pitt looked so negative that the ESPN crew of Sean McDonough and Doris Burke openly talked of how everyone at Pitt was ready to move on from this season.
And then Virginia opened things up once more. From the Virginia perspective, it started with a hustle play that created a 50-50 ball bouncing their way.
Pitt had slashed Virginia’s 11-point halftime lead to 46-44 when Isaiah Wilkins tapped a Perrantes miss, back toward the perimeter, where the Cavaliers regained possession. A subsequent 50-50 ball sent the 6-foot-11, 247-pound Salt sprawling over the baseline, and before landing with a thud, he managed to knock the ball off Panthers All-ACC wing Michael Young.
Better yet for Virginia (22-9), Kyle Guy converted Salt’s save into a right-corner 3-pointer.
“I knew if it was off one of our guys,” Salt said, “so I just tried to chuck it behind me, and luckily there was a Pitt dude there, and he fumbled it out. I was pretty lucky, to be honest.”
“Big play,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “He certainly didn’t look like he had a chance at it. … Those are momentum changes. We tell our guys, it’s about the heart at this level. Every possession matters, and that one mattered.”
From there, Perrantes, a four-year starter at point guard, seized command. He made back-to-back threes and a drive. He assisted on a Ty Jerome 3-pointer.
There was a little luck. Salt managed to send it backwards, so low that it hit Mike Young’s shins before he could react. And then it bounced out without hitting either Cavalier player that was out of bounds. Still, it was the way Virginia took advantage of the luck that made the difference.
I don’t know that there is much to say at this point. Pitt’s offense wasn’t able to consistently beat the Virginia defense, and the defense has never had much of an answer this year.
Just like the previous game, UVa went 11-22 on 3s (Virginia, on the season was about 39%). Pitt was better from outside then the previous game, but needed to shoot 3s like they did in the upset win in January.
As much as this team frustrated. Seemed downright unlikable at times. As much as we have a coach no one seemed to want. It still stings to see them go out. I still feel bad for the players on the team that did put the effort. The ones that did care.
With the loss, the seniors closed a chapter on their respective careers, a stretch of time that will be dissected, debated and occasionally scrutinized in the coming months and over the course of Stallings’ tenure at the school.
They’ve known for months their time at the school likely wouldn’t end how they would have preferred it to, or at least how they once envisioned it, but in a somber, understated locker room after the loss, it didn’t make it any easier to digest.
“It wasn’t so much about how people perceived us, but it was about how we wanted to go out,” Jeter said. “We didn’t want to go out how we are right now. We couldn’t avoid it, I guess.”