Pitt Stages Historic Comeback

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

A poor shooting performance to start, turnovers, foul trouble and Oakland coming up with clutch shots dominate Pitt in the first half. Panthers come back from 18-point deficit in final 11:34 of regulation, leading to overtime win.

Pitt didn't start pretty for a second game in a row. They took a little longer this time around getting an offensive spark, and with the game and in more dire need later in the game.

Down by 18 points with 11:34 left in the game, and 14 at halftime, Pitt was able to overcome it all in a 72-62 overtime win on Saturday night.

J.J. Moore came off the bench to lead Pitt with 16, followed by James Robinson with 14 and Dante Taylor with 12. Corey Petros led three Oakland players in double-digits with 19 points. He was followed by Providence transfer Duke Mondy with 14 and Travis Bader with 14.

Pitt struggled early on--shooting just 28 percent (4-14) to start the game, not to mention four turnovers in the game's first eight minutes. A steal by Valentine and eventual layup gave Oakland a 11-9 lead with 11:53 left in the first half, and already its second lead of the game.

Things only spiraled out of control from there for Pitt. Mondy had 9 of the first 19 points for Oakland. A pair of three-pointers at the end of the half for Bader led to the 14-point halftime lead. Pitt shot just 30-percent in the first half (8-26)

Pitt was also getting eaten alive in the paint--20-8 in that first half, as Steven Adams had to sit on the bench with two fouls for the final nine minutes of the half.

In addition to no offensive rhythm, getting outmanned in the paint, Oakland making plays, Pitt wasn't helping itself out much in taking care of the ball. Seven Pitt turnovers led to 12 Oakland points.

Pitt managed to make it a game in the second half. In fact, a historic one. The Panthers trailed 18 points with 11:53 left. There's a lot that can go through your mind as a coach and as a player. Do you start subbing? Do you start chucking three-pointers? When do you start fouling?

"I figured we couldn't be as bad as we were in the first half and they couldn't be as good as they were in the first six or seven minutes," Dixon said. "I said to the guys, there's going to be fifteen possessions; each team. That's plenty of possessions to get stops, plenty of possessions to get baskets. It's a lot of time. You have to play well during that period."

It all started with back-to-back three-pointers from Travon Woodall and Durand Johnson. Another three from Moore made it a 50-39 game. Pitt got the deficit back to single digits as Woodall dished inside to Adams, who finished off for an easy layup. Oakland led 50-41 with 7:23 left.

The three-point barrage continued for Pitt. Woodall added one from the corner, making it a 51-44 game with 6:30 left. A pair of Robinson free throws made it a 51-46 game, approaching the 6:00 mark.

Then we saw an example of why Robinson is in the starting lineup; making clutch plays in key situations. In fact, while it was Moore who led the team in scoring, its easy to say Robinson led the charge in this comeback.

"He's a tremendous player, there's a reason he's out there starting," Dixon added. "He's got maturity that's beyond his years, both physically and mentally."

Robinson dished inside to Moore, who bounced it in off the glass and is fouled. Pitt made it a 53-49 game with under five minutes to play.

Back-to-back offensive fouls by Petros--who was getting frustrated by Zanna's defense of him--gave Pitt two possessions, down 56-51. Pitt couldn't capitalize on either. One resulted in a missed three by Woodall. The other, the ball was lofted away by Pitt. Bader came up with the loose all, hoping to take it end to end for a layup. As Bader went up, Woodall went up to block his shot, but was fouled. Bader then went to the line and converted both free throws, putting his team up 58-51 with 1:06 left. Based on the deficit, the time left, it seemed like Oakland was in control.

Pitt still wasn't out of it.

After a putback from Taylor made it a 58-56 game with 28 seconds left. Robinson then came up with a steal, under the basket as Oakland was trying to bring the ball in bounds. He stole the ball, and got Mondy to foul him, sending him to the bench with his fifth. Robinson converted both free throws, tying the game with seven seconds left.

As if things needed to be any more dramatic, Pitt came up with a jump ball on the in-bounds pass, and yet one more chance to win it. Woodall brought the ball up court, then chucked the ball with his back to the rim. The ball bounced off the backboard, sending the game to an extra frame.

A rarity, Pitt forced turnovers on back-to-back presses. The solution?

We communicated, it's just guys playing hard," Woodall said. "We get after it, and (Dixon) wants us to press."

Pitt took its first lead on a two-pointer by Robinson; the first field goal of the overtime period. It was the first Pitt lead since A three-pointer from Moore gave Pitt a 67-60 lead with just over two minutes left in the overtime period. Woodall then found Taylor for an easy dunk.

That gave Taylor 12 points, whom Dixon had some strong words of support for Taylor.

"He's a really good defender, he's a very good offensive rebounder, he's a great person, and he's a great teammate," Dixon said. "There are those who focus on what he can't do, but the people who focus on what he can do realize what a great kid he is, and what a great teammate he is."

Pitt led 69-60 with 1:09 left in the overtime, completing an improbable comeback. In addition to stepping up when they needed to--forcing eight turnovers in the final three minutes, a stretch of 7-11 shooting--players also credited the fans.

"Our fans are always there with us," Moore said. "I didn't see one fan leave. That showed they had faith in us. They are our sixth man and they bring a spark to us."

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