WASHINGTON -- Nasir Robinson could barely get out the words between sobs. Sitting at his locker after one of the most crushing defeats in NCAA tournament history, Robinson blamed himself for No. 1 seed Pitt falling to No. 8 seed Butler, 71-70, Saturday night in a Southeast Region third-round game at Verizon Center.
"I take the blame," Robinson said. "I take the blame for this loss. I made a dumb play. I apologize to my teammates and the fans."
Pitt was 1.4 seconds away from moving onto the Sweet 16. Gilbert Brown had a chance to win the game after being fouled near midcourt when the Panthers hurriedly tried to inbound the ball after Butler's Andrew Smith put the Bulldogs ahead with 2.2 seconds to play.
Brown stepped to the line for two free throws. He sank the first to tie the score, but he missed the second. Butler's Matt Howard rebounded, and Robinson fouled him trying to go for the ball. When asked if he knew the situation, Robinson replied: "I wasn't thinking at all. I was trying to make a play. It was a dumb play. I wasn't thinking at all. I blame myself. I've been playing this game long enough to know not to make a dumb play like that."
Howard then stepped to the line with 0.8 seconds left. He made the first to put the Bulldogs ahead and purposely missed the second. Time ran out before Brad Wanamaker could release a desperation shot from beyond half court.
Howard said he was surprised Robinson contested the rebound after Brown missed.
"I was really surprised," Howard said. "I knew we didn't have any timeouts. I felt his arm come across me. I just threw the ball toward the rim."
There were two fouls called in the waning seconds. One was called on Butler's Shelvin Mack when he bumped Brown after he chased down an errant inbounds pass from Ashton Gibbs. The second whistle ame with less than a second remaining with Butler 92 feet away from a potential winning basket.
"I can't believe he called it," Gibbs said. "I don't understand it."
The final whistle and subsequent free throw capped a thrilling final 10 minutes of the contest when neither team held more than a four-point lead.
As well as the game was played by both teams for 39 minutes, it will be remembered for some questionable decisions by the Panthers and the officials in the final minute.
Pitt had a one-point lead and possession of the ball with less than a minute to go, but the Panthers were called for a shot-clock violation with 9.2 seconds remaining when Robinson passed up a shot in the lane to kick it out to Gibbs, who failed to release his shot before the shot clock expired with eight seconds left.
Butler called a timeout to set up the final play. Bulldogs guard Shawn Vanzant blew by Brown on a drive and dished to Smith in the lane for the go-ahead score.
After Brown was fouled, he had plenty of time to think about the free throws because the officials were huddled around the scorer's table to make sure they had the right amount of time left on the clock. During that time, Mack, who committed the foul, was talking to Brown as he prepared to shoot the free throws.
Brown, a 78 percent free-throw shooter, said Mack's chatter didn't bother him. He said the second free throw felt good when he released it.
"I saw it hit the front part of the rim, and then I saw it fall out," he said.
Brown said he was surprised to hear a whistle after that.
"Yeah I was," he said. "You don't even expect him to have that much time to make the foul. It's a tough play."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon will be questioned for having Robinson there to rebound. Brown defended Dixon's decision not to pull his players back off the blocks in that situation.
"In that situation you want to be able to get a tip-in," Brown said. "If we had been up in the game it would have been a different story."
Mack led Butler with 30 points and kept the Bulldogs in the game in the second half with his 3-point shooting. He made 7 of 12 attempts from behind the 3-point arc, many of them of the difficult variety.
Brown led the way with 24 points for the Panthers, who shot 56.5 percent from the field for the game. They shot 62 percent in the second half while holding Butler to 39 percent after halftime.
Butler led by eight points at halftime, but Pitt quickly got the lead early in the second half when they scored 13 of the first 16 points after the intermission.
In the final 14-plus minutes the score was tied six times and the biggest lead was five points.
The loss dashed Pitt's NCAA championship aspirations after the Panthers landed a No. 1 seed for the second time in three years.
"It's very tough," Gibbs said. "I thought this was the year. I was confident. It's tough for it to end like this."
First Published March 20, 2011 4:00 AM