NEW YORK -- By the time reporters were allowed into the Pitt locker room yesterday after the Panthers beat Marquette in a Big East Conference semifinal game, they had reigned in their enthusiasm from another improbable victory and refocused their minds for one last mission: Finish the job.
That was the goal for the Panthers, who had been getting the reputation as a perennial big-game loser in the conference championship game.
Tonight, the upstart Panthers completed their mission with a 74-65 victory against top-seeded Georgetown before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Pitt raised the Big East trophy at center court for the second time and ended years of frustration in this game. The Panthers had lost the past two Big East championship games and had won only once in six previous appearances, in 2003.
Pitt became the second team to win four games in four days to claim the conference title, joining Syracuse (2006).
This was an upset that almost no one saw coming. Georgetown had blitzed foes in its first two games here, beating its first two opponents (Villanova and Georgetown) by 19 and 18 points .
The Hoyas were heavy favorites to repeat -- they had never lost a Big East tournament game as the No. 1 seed in 14 previous contests -- but the Panthers were not going to be denied.
They avenged a 23-point loss from a year ago in the championship game to the Hoyas and appear to be a team hitting on all cylinders entering the NCAA tournament. They have won seven of their past eight games and should get a favorable seed this evening when the NCAA selection committee unveils the 65-team field at 6 p.m. tomorrow on KDKA-TV 2.
The Panthers could have enjoyed a blowout victory had they not missed so many free throws. Their inability to make foul shots kept Georgetown in the game. Pitt shot 50 percent from the line.
Everything else was perfect for the Panthers.
Pitt led, 31-28, at halftime. The Panthers pushed the lead to seven in the early moments of the second half after MVP Sam Young and DeJuan Blair made baskets. Blair's basket, on a fast break after he helped force a steal at midcourt, was his first of the game. He scored one point in the first half.
Georgetown cut the lead to four, but Gilbert Brown's 3-pointer from the corner pushed the lead back to seven with 11:03 remaining. Pitt had a chance to push the lead to eight when Levance Fields went to the line, but he missed both free throws. At that point, the Panthers were 5 for 16 from the free-throw line for the game.
Fields stepped to the line again after a Georgetown miss at the other end, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Blair grabbed the rebound, drew a fourth foul on Hibbert and made one of two free throws. The score was 47-40 with 9:17 to go.
With Hibbert out of the game, Pitt went to Blair, and Blair scored to make it 49-42 with 8:21 remaining. Pitt forced another Georgetown miss, and Young drove the baseline and was fouled. Young made one free throw. Blair grabbed the rebound and completed a 3-point play for a 53-42 lead.
On Pitt's next possession, Keith Benjamin made a turnaround jumper as the shot clock was winding down for a 55-42 lead with 6:25 remaining.
Georgetown cut into the lead when Fields left the game with an apparent rib injury. The Hoyas scored four consecutive points to make it 55-46 with 5:09 remaining.
Young drew a foul at the other end and made one free throw to restore a 10-point lead, but Hibbert completed a 3-point play at the other end to make it 56-49 with 4:45 remaining. The foul was Blair's fourth, and he had to exit the game.
Georgetown attempted to make a steal, but Pitt corralled the ball. Fields found an open Ronald Ramon for a 3-pointer with 3:45 remaining that gave Pitt a 59-49 lead.
Hibbert scored to make it 59-51. Fields was fouled and made one free throw. It was 60-51 with 2:36 remaining.
Patrick Ewing completed a 3-point play with 2:20 left after he drove to the hoop and was fouled by Tyrell Biggs.
Ramon was fouled and could only make one of two. Georgetown could not take advantage, however, as Jonathan Wallace traveled. Ramon was fouled again, and keeping with tradition, made one of two. It was 62-54 with two minutes to go.
Ewing completed another 3-point play with 1:49 remaining to make it 62-57. Fields was fouled -- and hallelujah! -- made both for a 64-57 lead.
Tyrell Biggs was fouled after a Georgetown miss, and made one of two free throws. Wallace then made a 3-pointer to make it 65-60 with 1:20 remaining.
Fields was fouled and made one of two for a 66-60 lead with 1:17 remaining. Georgetown missed on its possession, and Ramon was fouled. He made both fouls shots for a 68-60 lead. From there, the Panthers closed it out.
Georgetown jumped on Pitt and led by six on three occasions in the first half. Each time the Hoyas got the lead to six, Pitt responded with a run of its own to stay in the game.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230.