Pitt looked for the dramatic in a 73-64, emotionally-charged comeback win over Villanova on Sunday.
With the win, Pitt improves to 23-7 overall, 11-6 in the Big East. The Panthers only need to win Saturday at DePaul to clinch a top-four spot in the Big East regardless of any Notre Dame outcomes this week. The tiebreaker is Pitt's win over Georgetown, while the Irish lost to the Hoyas.
Talib Zanna and James Robinson paid nice tribute to Pitt seniors Dante Taylor and Travon Woodall. Zanna finished with a double-double of 14 points and 19 rebounds. All 14 of his points came in the final 20 minutes of play, including the overtime. Woodall added a double-double of his own, 13 points and 11 assists.
"Our guys responded in so many ways," an emotional Jamie Dixon said after the game. "The first thing I'll remember about this day is the way our seniors--I've talked the last couple weeks about the steps they've taken--to have them play so well, to have Tray hit Dante for a dunk at the end, then a chance to take them out with 0.3 seconds left, with a win, I don't know it could have been any better. I'm just proud of those guys."
"Great college basketball game," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "I give Pitt a lot of credit. Great program, great school. You come here, and everyone treats you like a king. We're going to really miss this. We have great respect for this program. I have great respect for Jamie."
Villanova didn't go away without its fair share of contributions. Ryan Arcidiacono had a game-high 23 points, followe by Mouhptaou Yarou with 14 and Jayvaughn Pinkston with 13.
It was a very sluggish first half. For example, when Lamar Patterson tied the score at 8-8 with a wide-open jumper at the 10:35 mark of the first half, that was enough to panic Villanova head coach Jay Wright, as he called for timeout.
Through the first eight minutes of the half, Villanova shot just 2-10 (20%). Pitt didn't fare much better, shooting 3-11 (27.3%). That's what led to the 8-8 tie.
Things changed dramatically over the final 12 minutes of the half. During that stretch, Villanova shot 6-11 (54.5%), while Pitt fared slightly less at 7-16 (43.7%)
"It was hard at first, but once the team got going, we just played for our team, and our team played for us," Woodall added.
Villanova didn't take its first lead of the game until nine minutes in, after a pair of free throws from Pinkston. Thanks to the hot shooting of Arcidiacono, who scored 13 of Villanova's 28 first half points, Villanova led by as many as five. They took a 28-25 lead into halftime, overcoming five ties and five lead changes.
Pitt still had an 18-14 edge in rebounding at the half. Heading into today's game, Pitt was 18-1 when outrebounding the opponent. However, the Villanova run continued into the second half. The Wildcats started the half with a 5-0 run. After Yarou had a wide-open lane to dunk on, Dixon called his first timeout of the second half. This was now Villanova's largest lead of the game.
Pitt then answered with its own 5-0 run. Still holding a 35-31 lead, foul trouble started to take its toll on Villanova. Daniel Ochefu picked up three first half fouls. He picked up a fourth after one shift in the second half, which quickly sent him back to the bench. With Pitt trailing by four, Tony Chennault and Yarou remained in the game with three fouls each.
Robinson made it a three-point game for Pitt, driving in for a layup and converting the free throw. In addition, he drew a foul from James Bell, picked up his third foul in the process.
Pitt got a big boost offensively from another freshman. Durand Johsnon got open for a three-pointer, making it a 40-37 Villanova lead with 11:47 left. It marked his first points of the game.
Still down by three, 41-38, with 11:12 left in the game, Villanova had four players on the floor with at least three fouls--Bell, Chennault, Yarou and Hilliard.
A second three-pointer from Johnson made it a 43-41 Pitt deficit, the closest the Panthers had been in the entire second half. After a defensive stop, Woodall answered with another two-pointer, tying the game at 43-43 at 10:02.
Arcidiacono answered again. Held scoreless in the second half to this point. after scoring 13 in the first half, he tacked on a three-pointer, and a jumper to put his team back but by five, 48-43 with under nine minutes to go.
Despite Bell picking up a fourth fouls with 7:14 left, and Ochefu back in the floor with four fouls, Pitt still couldn't get closer than three points.
That was until Johnson hit his third three-pointer of the game, making it a 52-50 deficit with 3:30 left.
Pitt couldn't get the loose ball on the defensive series, as Yarou hit a jumper to put the Wildcats back up by four.
Pitt got a little offensive spark again, as Johnson hit his third three pointer of the night, bringing Pitt to within two at 52-50. But, it was Yarou again--quieting the crowd after another long possession--putting his team up 56-52, the game approaching the one-minute mark.
Woodall answered the call, converting a pair for free throws, making it a 56-54 Villanova led with 1:06 left. Pinkston was fouled on the other end for Villanova, but only made one of his two shots. The Wildcats still led 57-54 with 57.6 seconds to play.
Heading into this game, Woodall talked about patience--how waiting his turn and eing patient led to good things for him in his Pitt career. This next possession may have been reflective of that statement, and also a fitting senior tribute. Pitt worked the possession carefully. At first, it looked like Woodall was working for the last shot. he drove, then fed to Patterson, who then quickly dished to a wide-open Robinson. Robinson tied it with 31.9 seconds on a three-pointer, 57-57. It was just the second time of the half the game was tied.
James, coming up with those big threes, Talib played so hard," an emotional Dante Taylor said after the game. "He had 19 rebounds. When you have teammates like that, that can pull it out for you, it speaks a lot."
"We're a team, that's all that really matters," Woodall added. "It showed tonight. Those guys went out, they played hard."
Then, it looked like Arcidiacono was going to hold for the last shot. He held possession, then drove to the hoop with under ten seconds left. Patterson and Taylor quickly slid on him, blocking his shot. The ball went out of bounds, possession arrow favoring Villanova with 3.3 seconds left.
Wright called timeout to get his team set up for one last shot. When both teams took the floor, Dixon didn't like how his team was lined up, so he called timeout.
"I wanted a bigger guy on the in-bounder," Dixon said. "We had a bigger guy guarding the three, which we never do. I was worried about a lob. That worked, because they had to throw underneath."
Dixon's timeout benefited the Panther defense. As they tried to inbound the ball to Yarou, Taylor and Patterson combined to come up with a loose ball. Patterson heaved the loose ball the length of the court as time expired. The ball bounced off the glass, but did not go in. For a second time this season, there would be overtime at the Petersen Events Center.
Sticking with the same hoops as the second half, Pitt stood tall on defense on the first Villanova possession. On its first offensive possession, Zanna took one to the hole, drew the foul and converted the free throw. His points put Pitt up 60-57, its first lead in a span of 24:40--dating back to the first half.
Pitt got another break as Chennault drew the foul on Villanova's next offensive series. He somehow missed both shots. Yarou then picked up his fourth foul, fouling Zanna. Zanna connected on both, putting Pitt up 62-57--it's largest lead of the game. It also gave Zanna just his second double-digit output in his last 13 games. He hit another short range jumper, putting Pitt up 64-57, and forcing Wright to call timeout.
Zanna had started the game 0-4, hitting his first field goal nearly 25 minutes into the game. He scored all 14 of his,points in the final 15 minutes of regulation, and the five minutes of overtime.
Villanova made it a three-point game, 64-61, as Arcidiacono knocked in a pair of free throws, as the one-minute mark of overtime approached.
Robinson answered with a couple free throws, but Arcidiacono answered too--as he did all day. He hit his fifth three-pointer of the day, closing the gap to 66-64 with 58.6 seconds left in the overtime.
As they did at the end of regulation, Dixon put the ball in the hands of Woodall. As he worked the offense patiently, he waited for his turn to take the drive. He drew a double--just as he did earlier. When defensive slide came, he immediately hit Robinson at the baseline. It was the opposite baseline as Robinson's earlier three-pointer, but like the other, it was good. Pitt led 69-64 with 28.3 seconds left.
Robinson hadn't hit a three-pointer since the Louisville game on January 28, yet he hit one to send the game to overtime and another to basically put the game away in overtime.
"These guys, they trusted me all year," referring to Woodall and Robinson setting him up. "For them to be able to trust me enough on the corner, I just knocked it down. I really just wanted them to win on senior night."
Villanova tried to answer with a quick layup attempt from Hilliard, but he missed. Pitt added a pair of free throws again. Then, they finished with the dramatic. Woodall came up with the loose ball. He then passed the ball up to Taylor, who finished the play off with a dunk. Pitt led 73-64.
As if he couldn't give the senior duo a bigger roar, he did. Dixon then subbed out Taylor and Woodall for Moore and Johnson, respectively, allowing them to collect another ovation from the crowd.
"They're the most unselfish kids we've had," Dixon said. "Tray, he's one of our all-time leading assist players. Dante is the most unselfish player, the best teammate. We've never had a better teammate than Dante Taylor."