Virginia opened a 14 point lead over the host Panthers with 5 minutes left in the second half. The Cavaliers would convert only one bucket down the stretch and committed a trio of mind-boggling turnovers and allowed Pitt back into the game. Would UVa be able to hold on for the road victory?
A win is a win is a win, but it sure seemed like the team tried to give this victory back. The team became complacent with the ball, Braxton Key missed half of his free throws down the stretch, and the Pitt press made inbounding the ball… umm… adventurous. We won this game because the defense came out on fire to start the second half as Pittsburgh begun the half going 2 – 14 from the field. It was just too large a lead for the Panthers to overcome.
Lack of aggression after the rebound. Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, and Key all grabbed rebounds and then stood. Obviously they were expecting all the Pitt defenders to retreat to their half, except that no one told Pitt that. Three times Pitt forced held balls, much to the surprise of the aforementioned trio.
Diakite’s defense. Here is what StLou Hoo wrote in his preview piece about Justin Chamagnie: Champagnie's been an absolute steal. Much as we just talked about BC's Jay Heath going from zero to hero as one of this year's breakout freshman, now we must talk about Justin Champagnie. He's quickly become Pitt's leading scorer and the 4th-leading scorer among all ACC freshmen in league play (Nolley, Carey, and Heath being 1-3). What's been most surprising is he's doing it without blistering 3-point shooting (just 27% on the season), but he's been dynamite getting into the lane. He shoots well over 50% on his 2s and draws his share of fouls.
Champagnie scored just 9 points and he didn’t get to the line once and not one of them were when he was marked by Diakite. He scored once in transition and he had a nice jab step versus Key, but you can’t jab-step Mamadi: he’s too long and too quick. Taking Pitt’s best player out of the game went a long way towards securing the win.
Braxton Key’s near goal-tend. The game was down to a last shot – it was delivered after the buzzer had sounded, but Key blocked the shot from inside the hoop. I’m pretty sure I head a ref’s whistle as time expired, and presumably Key heard the same whistle, but it was a bone-headed play and you can’t accurately predict how the refs are going to rule.
Casey Morsell. Despite some scattered reporting that Morsell would miss this game, he did in fact play, and this was one of the few games where he didn’t look like a project to me. He got the rim twice, he converted a nice corner three, and he went to free throw line, which is a place where we want to see more of him: he’s a dynamite free throw shooter. He was on the court when the game was very much in doubt, even as the team was imploding, which we have to hope gives him some confidence going forward.
Tony Bennett’s late game management. The team was clearly out of synch as Pitt was en route to a 17 – 6 stretch run that made the game entirely too close for comfort. Dean Smith and Roy Williams after him, were/are loathe to call timeouts, figuring that it was up to the players to get themselves out of jams. But this team, especially Kihei Clark, needed to re-group. There were at least three times I would have called time out.
Clark’s penetration. Despite almost blowing the game late in the second half, Clark was electric in the first half. He can get into the lane anytime he wants. He’s scored 17 points in each of the past two games. His second halves are usually better than his first, but not this day. His first half was great.