The talk going into to each NCAA tournament, is that Pitt can’t win the big game and fans won’t believe in false hope until Pitt proves themselves. So this finally looked like the year that Pitt could do it. All of the experts felt that Pitt had the easiest run to the Final Four in the Southeast region. While many Pitt doubters didn’t feel Pitt would make it to Houston and the Final Four, I don’t think anyone believed that they would lose in the second round to Butler. On my way to watch the game yesterday, I told my friend Doug that Butler is a good team that is under the radar again and that it would be close, but Pitt would pull it out in typical Pitt fashion. With more action taking place in 2.5 seconds than I have ever seen, the establishment was left in silence as Pitt suffered their worst loss in team history, 71-70.
Pitt played from behind almost the entire game as they couldn’t contain the outside shot of Butler as the Bulldogs hit 12-27 three-pointers. Shelvin Mack led the way for the Bulldogs with 30 points, 21 of which coming behind the arc. It seemed as if no matter what shot Mack threw up, it was going in. Leading the way for Pitt was Senior guard, Gilbert Brown. Brown hasn’t had his best games of late and it was time he had a breakout performance. Brown shot 8-11 from the field and 4-5 from the charity stripe, the lone miss being the crucial one for Pitt.
Pitt came out at halftime a new team, as usual. They slowed down Mack and let Butler standout Matt Howard launch up shots from three-point land, which I would give him all day. The second half was a back and forth slugfest and Pitt couldn’t put Butler away. Trailing 69-68, Butler got the ball after a horrible shot clock violation by the Panthers, with 9 seconds left to play. After advancing the ball up to center court, Butler took a time out with 7 seconds left on the clock. I instantly shot a text to my brother and told Doug that Butler was going to do something similar that UConn did in the Big East tournament and that Notre Dame did in the regular season. They were going to run a pick-and-roll up top with Mack and Howard to hope to get a mismatch with Pitt center, Gary McGhee and Mack. Butler, instead inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who took the ball to the hoop, ignoring the screen at the top of the key by Howard, and dumped the ball off to Andrew Smith with only 2.5 seconds left on the clock for the 70-69 lead. Here is where the game gets interesting.
Pitt inbounds the ball to Gilbert Brown around half court and Mack ran into Brown fouling him 50-feet away from the hoop and sending him to the line with a chance to tie. With the Butler bench and fans in disbelief, the Pitt fans took a deep breath as Pitt’s player of the game, looked to give them the win. First shot, up and good for a tie-game. Second shot, up and off of the rim, so the game will go to overtime right? That’s what everyone thought until the rebound was secured by Howard and Pitt forward Nasir Robinson smacked him across the arms fouling him 85-feet away from the basket. The disbelief in every fan, announcer and players face were the same. Never have I witnessed an ending to the game like this. Howard would go on to make the first shot and miss the second on purpose to end the game and advance Butler to the Sweet 16.
Who is to blame for this loss? Is if the referees for blowing the whistle with .8 seconds remaining? Is it Coach Dixon for bowing out early again? It’s neither. The refs call a 40 minute game and a foul five minutes into the game is the same foul with .8 seconds remaining. Dixon can’t be blamed for the loss either, even though he took it.
“That’s just the type of coach that Coach Dixon is, said Brown. If I didn’t miss the free throw, if Nasir didn’t foul at the end and if we didn’t miss opportunities throughout the game, then we wouldn’t have lost this game.”
Robinson seemed to feel that he was the reason for the loss however.
“I take the blame, man. I take the blame for the loss. I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I know I shouldn’t have done that. It was a stupid play. It wasn’t the ref’s fault. It was my fault,” a saddened Robinson told reporters.
For the average Pitt fan, they don’t remember a time when Pitt struggled to make the tournament and when the Pitt program was like the Penn State program now. Throughout all of the hard years though, this goes down as the worst loss in history of the program. A loss in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight is one thing, but when you have the path that Pitt had and you lose on the first weekend, you reassure all of the Pitt doubters out there that you can’t win the big game. Pitt is a great program but until they prove it in the postseason, fans won’t give them the benefit of the doubt anymore.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com