PITTSBURGH—The Panthers (4-0) pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat Saturday night against visiting Oakland (1-3) at the Petersen Events Center. They came back from the largest halftime deficit (14 points) in the history of the program, tied the game with ten second left, and pulled away in overtime for a 72-62 win.
Even more impressive—Pitt was down 18 points with 11:09 left, and was down 7 points with only 1:07 left in the game before pulling out the win.
“This was not your typical ten-point win. They caused us to make mistakes and not play our best basketball,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “In the second half we took care of business. In the first half, we didn’t. We battled. That is the most important thing.”
The Grizzlies took an 11-9 lead at the 12:30 mark of the first half and did not trail again in regulation. They led 34-20 at the half. When James Robinson hit a jumper less than 30 seconds into overtime, it was the Panthers’ first lead since the 13:43 mark of the first half when they led 9-7.
Pitt turned up the pressure on both ends of the court about midway through the second half and actually started playing like a team. The Panthers were still down seven points with four minutes left and forced eight Grizzly turnovers in the final stretch to fuel the mad dash.
Robinson committed a turnover with 15 seconds left and Pitt down one at 58-56 but he made up for it on the ensuing possession by getting a steal and then drawing a foul on the play. He calmly stepped to the line with ten seconds left and drained two free throws to tie the game.
“I just stepped up to the line and made the two free throws,” Robinson said. “I was pretty calm, we shoot free throws very day at practice.”
With the Petersen Events Center crowd going nuts and the players feeding off the energy, the Panthers ran away with the game in overtime, outscoring Oakland 14-4 in the extra frame.
“[The atmosphere] was tremendous. The fans were great,” Dixon said. “I think they’ve seen a lot of comebacks here and I guess this was the biggest comeback ever.”
Robinson scored 12 points and dished three assists in the win. J.J. Moore added 11 in being the only other Panther in double figures. Center Steve Adams got into foul trouble and Dante Taylor came off the bench and scored 6 points, pulled down 8 rebounds, and dished 3 assists.
“I try to give us a spark off the bench,” Taylor said. “My main focus is rebounding and I was able to do that tonight.”
Three Grizzlies scored in double figures led by Corey Petros with 19. Duke Mondy and Travis Bader each added 14 in the loss. Head coach Greg Kampe was disappointed in the collapse of his team in the final three minutes after leading for much of the game.
“When you come to Pitt, you go against one of the best teams in the country, one of the best coaches in the country, in a building that they don’t lose, nobody can tell me we should not have won the game,” Kampe said. “For 37 minutes, we were the best team on the floor. For the last 3 minutes I don’t know what happened.”
One crucial thing that happened to the Grizzlies was Travis Bader, one of the best free throw shooters in the country, missed a front end of a one-and-one with 59 seconds left and holding a six point lead.
“A 95% free throw shooter missed the front end of the one and one. This was a chance to beat Pitt. How often is Oakland going to beat Pitt. This is the type of win our kids could have carried with them for the rest of their life,” Kampe said. “The whole thing we tried to do in the second half was keeping the game slow so they couldn’t get that burst. Anytime you’re on the road, [crowd noise] is part of the whole deal. That’s part of the atmosphere.”
The Panthers shot only 30 percent from the field in the first half, 41 percent overall (25-60) and 29 percent from behind the arc (7-24). Tray Woodall made only two baskets on 14 attempts. He credited the team after the game for battling the whole way.
“We showed a lot of character tonight, especially with all the new and younger players. I have to go with this game as being our best comeback,” Woodall said. “We knew eventually we would wear them down.”
Pitt now travels to New York City to play against fifth-ranked Michigan in the NIT semifinals Wednesday night with a perfect record intact.