Cold theme a thread in close losses for Pitt

PITT BASKETBALL


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The heartbreaking loss Sunday to Virginia at Petersen Events Center was the third time this season Pitt lost a game that wasn't decided until the final 10 seconds.

The Panthers lost to Cincinnati in December when Titus Rubles got an offensive rebound and putback with six seconds to play. And they lost Jan. 18 at Syracuse, 59-54, but trailed by one with five seconds to play and couldn't tie the score.

Those three games have accounted for three of Pitt's four losses -- the fourth was a 15-point loss Jan. 27 to Duke. There were a number of things each of those close losses have had in common, but there is one glaring trend that has done in the Panthers each time.

In the 44-43 loss to the Bearcats, the Panthers got a dunk from Talib Zanna with 14:54 to play to take a 30-25 lead. They did not make another field goal until there was 1:09 to play when Cameron Wright made a layup to give them a 43-42 lead.

That is a span of more than 13 minutes without a field goal, and the Panthers scored only 13 points in the final 14:54.

Coach Jamie Dixon at the time said the lack of scoring in the final 15 minutes was a result of Cincinnati slowing down the game and limiting possessions.

Then came the Syracuse game. The Panthers got a 3-pointer from Lamar Patterson with 6:02 to play to take a 49-48 lead, but that was the final time they scored from the field and got only four more points the rest of the way.

In Sunday's 48-45 loss to Virginia, Cameron Wright made a 3-pointer with 6:54 to play to give the Panthers a 44-41 lead. That was their final field goal of the game, and they scored only one more point -- a Jamel Artis free throw -- the rest of the way.

In the final 27 minutes of three close losses (14 minutes against Cincinnati, 6 against Syracuse and 7 against Virginia), the Panthers have made only three field goals.

Dixon was asked after the loss Sunday if he thought the Panthers were maybe being too patient and not aggressive enough down the stretch.

He said there are many reasons they haven't been able to score late in some games but running too much clock isn't one of them.

"We had to get some stops and some rebounds," Dixon said. "[The Cavaliers] aren't going to turn the ball over and so transition opportunities are limited. That is pretty much a given in conference games against good teams. We had some pretty good looks [down the stretch].

Pitt had a chance to take a lead but missed two shots in the final 20 seconds.

"The last possession, we did want to run some clock and get a good look, and I thought we did," he said. "You have to make free throws down the stretch as well and we have to finish around the basket."

Artis got an offensive rebound with 14 seconds to play and had nice look at a basket but missed the putback. Virginia got the rebound, called timeout and then set up the winning play.

Dixon said he can't quite put a finger on why the Panthers seem to be struggling to score around the basket.

"I think it is something that we just need to get better at," he said. "It is something we have been working on, talking about and trying to finish. Sometimes maybe you have to pass if there is too much traffic and too many people around you. It is a combination of things, but we have to continue to improve in that area."

Free-throw shooting down the stretch also has been an issue.

In losing those three games by a total of nine points, Pitt was 5 of 10 from the line in the final 8:28 against Syracuse, 1 of 4 in the final 7 minutes against Virginia and 4 of 8 in the final 5 minutes against the Cincinnati.

But it wasn't just late in those three games. The Panthers were 43 of 71 combined or 60.5 percent, well below the season average of 71.8.

If the Panthers want to reverse a trend of losing close games, they obviously will need to finish better around the rim and hit free throws.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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