Panthers-Hoyas rivalry filled with big games

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Jerome Lane laughed out loud Monday morning when recalling some of the old games between Pitt and Georgetown. Forget about two highly ranked teams competing for supremacy in the Big East -- Lane's fondest memories of the series were the fights.

This was the old Big East, when fights were as much a part of the conference as stellar basketball, and the Panthers and Hoyas were two of the premier teams in the league. Lane was front and center in a couple of memorable slugfests in the 1987-88 season that contributed greatly to the rivalry that will conclude tonight at Verizon Center in Washington.

Pitt is moving from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. No. 19 Georgetown and the other Catholic universities are separating from the conference, too. Barring a meeting at the Big East tournament in March, the 77th meeting between the two schools will be the final one for the foreseeable future.

"It's sad that the Big East is collapsing," Lane said. "All those big games we had over the years, I don't like it."

Pitt and Georgetown played their share of big games. On Jan. 6, 1988, No. 2 Pitt went to Capital Centre in Landover, Md., undefeated and came home with its first loss and a nasty disposition. The No. 14 Hoyas not only pulled the upset, they angered the visitors.

"That was the game where there was a big fight and they almost killed me," Lane said.

Lane, a burly power forward, attempted to break up a fight between the Panthers' Nate Bailey and Mark Tillmon of the Hoyas. The next thing he knew, the benches cleared. Lane can't say for sure, but he believes Ronnie Highsmith was among the Georgetown players who clobbered him.

That game set the stage for one of the greatest in the series. In the rematch Feb. 20 at Civic Arena, the Panthers exacted some revenge in a 70-65 victory that was called with four seconds remaining on the clock because the officials could not control the game.

"That was the game the fans came out on the court and everything," Lane said. "That game was intense. I wanted payback. It all started with me and Perry McDonald. I kept telling him he couldn't shoot past five feet. He elbowed me in the chest and then I punched him.

"[Pitt's] Demetrius [Gore] picked up Sam Jefferson and hit him in the head. Remember his eye was bleeding? Big John had to separate the teams again in the hallway between the locker room because we were about to fight again."

"Big John" was John Thompson, the head coach at Georgetown from 1972-99. His son, John Thompson III, is the head coach of the Hoyas now and has played some memorable games against the Panthers as well.

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    Pitt (12-3, 0-2) vs. Georgetown (10-2, 0-1), 9 p.m. today, Verizon Center, Washington.

  • TV, Radio, Internet:

    ESPNU, KDKA-FM (93.7),

  • Pitt:

    Coming off a 67-62 loss at Rutgers. ... Started Big East schedule 0-2 for second consecutive season. ... Is 6-2 in past eight games at Verizon Center. ... Has made 8 of 36 (22.2 percent) attempts from 3-point range in first two Big East games. ... Junior F Lamar Patterson (9.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is 0 for 9 from 3-point range and 6 for 18 overall in conference play. ... Senior G Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) is 3 for 12 from 3-point range and 6 for 20 overall in conference play. ... Senior C Dante Taylor returned to the team Monday night after a death in his family over the weekend.

  • Georgetown:

    Coming off a 49-48 loss at Marquette. ... Other loss came in overtime against then-No. 1 Indiana in the Legends Classic in New York. ... Led by sophomore Fs Otto Porter (13.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Greg Whittington (12.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg). ... Coach John Thompson III is in his ninth season as head coach and has a 194-84 record with the Hoyas.

  • Hidden stat:

    Pitt has started 0-2 in the Big East eight other times and never won more than six games in any of those seasons.

Thompson III and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon have gone head-to-head 12 times, with each winning six times. Two of those games were Big East tournament championship games in 2007 and 2008.

"I have great respect for their program," Dixon said. "Growing up, you know about Georgetown, the history and the tradition. We've had some great games."

In the 2007 championship game, Georgetown was the No. 1 seed and Pitt the No. 2 seed. The Hoyas came away with a 65-42 victory in the title game. In 2008, after a seventh-place finish, the Panthers bucked the odds and upset the top-seeded Hoyas, 74-65, for Dixon's first and only Big East tournament championship.

Pitt finished the regular season with a 10-8 conference record after forward Mike Cook was lost for the season with a knee injury and point guard Levance Fields missed seven weeks with a foot injury. Fields returned to help the team win four games in four days at the tournament. Forward Sam Young was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

"We fought through a lot that year," Dixon said. "We kept battling and getting better. The thing I remember about that championship game is they were the bigger team. We had to use our quickness and aggressiveness in that game. They were the favorite. That whole four-game run was quite an accomplishment."

There were some other memorable games in the series. The Panthers and Hoyas played before a sellout crowd at Petersen Events Center in 2007, two months before the teams met the first time in the Big East title game. Georgetown set a Petersen Events Center record, shooting 60.9 percent, but Pitt won the game, 74-69.

In 2001, unranked Pitt traveled to D.C. and beat No. 10 Georgetown, 70-66, with 6-foot-3 Julius Page's dunk over Hoyas 7-foot center Reuben Boumtje-Boumtje serving as the game's signature moment. Many within the program point to the moment as the impetus for Pitt's return to basketball prominence after some mediocre seasons in the 1990s. A few weeks later, they made a run to the Big East tournament championship game, the first of four consecutive appearances in the title game.

One hundred and one years after the first game, Georgetown brings a 41-35 lead in the series into the final scheduled game. Pitt has won 11 of the past 17 since 2001.

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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