The 2009-10 season taught Pitt fans never to leave a game early no matter how dire the circumstances might appear. That was the year of the comeback for the Panthers, who recorded several miraculous victories that magical season.
No one would have blamed any of the 9,710 in attendance Saturday night if they had bolted for the exits early. Not with the home team playing poorly and trailing by nearly three touchdowns. But almost no one left, and, in the end, they were rewarded for their loyalty.
Three seasons after recording epic comebacks against Louisville and West Virginia at Petersen Events Center, the Panthers did it again Saturday night with a miraculous, 72-62 overtime victory against Oakland University of the Summit League.
Pitt trailed by 14 at halftime and by 18 with 11:35 remaining. It was the largest halftime deficit overcome in school history. The only better second-half comeback was when the Panthers rallied from 22 down to beat Purdue in 1960.
Tray Woodall played in those comeback victories against Louisville and West Virginia. He said this victory was more satisfying in some ways.
"When you think about it, the West Virginia game was a much longer game and much more exhausting," Woodall said. "With this new team, we have a bunch of young players, and this shows we have character. We didn't shoot well at all. We didn't defend well at all. The one thing we did do was fight and show character."
Oakland gift-wrapped the victory. The Golden Grizzlies committed four turnovers in the final 37 seconds of regulation.
James Robinson tied the score by making two free throw with 10 seconds remaining after he stole an Oakland inbounds pass and was fouled. Robinson atoned for an error a few seconds earlier when he was called for traveling when the Panthers trailed by two with 14.7 seconds left.
"It all started when I traveled," Robinson said. "After that, I was feeling bad. The only way I could make up for it was making that play. It wasn't even my man. I just went after it."
Oakland coach Greg Kampe was heartbroken afterward and accepted the blame for letting the big lead slip away. He identified the turning point when Travis Bader, a 95 percent free-throw shooter, missed a foul shot with 56 seconds remaining and the Golden Grizzlies ahead by six.
There were other miscues, including a five-second call on an inbounds play and an offensive foul on another inbounds play.
"This is a very, very hard moment for us because you come to Pitt, you go against a guy who is considered one of the top coaches in the country, you go against a program that's considered one of the best programs in the country in a building that they just don't lose in, we should have won the game," Kampe said.
"There's no one in this room that can tell me we shouldn't have. We should have won the game. For 37 minutes, we were by far the best team on the floor and, for the final three minutes, I don't know what happened. I'll take all the blame for it. We kind of collapsed. I guess good-coached teams don't collapse. I'll take all the blame for it. I feel very bad for my players because this is the type of game they carry with them for the rest of their life. We weren't able to finish it. It's a very, very disappointing time for us."
Reserve forward J.J. Moore led the Panthers (4-0) with 16 points, including five in overtime. Another reserve made some clutch plays at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. Dante Taylor scored off offensive rebounds with 37 seconds and 28 seconds left to cut the lead to two.
Taylor was in the game because freshman starter Steven Adams had four fouls and played only 17 minutes. Taylor was 6 for 7 from the field and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
"He's been playing so well," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's a good scorer. He's a great person and a great teammate. He is a very good player. "
Oakland shot 46 percent and outscored Pitt in the lane behind 19 points from center Corey Petros.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published November 18, 2012 5:00 AM