If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers decided to do a concert at Petersen Events Center, the Pitt men's basketball team has a great suggestion for a song to open the show: "Free Fallin'."
That about describes what the Panthers are officially doing after they lost Sunday to Florida State, 71-66, before a disapproving home crowd of 12,508.
It was the third consecutive loss for Pitt (20-7, 8-6 ACC) and fifth in seven games. It also was the Panthers' second home loss to an unranked opponent in six games.
Before this loss the Panthers were considered a solid NCAA tournament team even though they played a relatively weak non-conference schedule and had only one win against a team in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
Now, that argument takes a big hit because the Seminoles (16-11, 7-8) are considered to be a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) team having come into the game losers of seven of their past 10.
Pitt had eight days to prepare for this game but looked a bit sluggish and out of sync. Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said they shouldn't have been because they had a great week practice and he expected a much better showing.
"This is not what I expected based on our practices this week," Dixon said. "I was excited about how we worked and how we had played but we didn't play like we practiced and this is the result. We need to get it right, we need to get better at executing offensively. I think that is really affecting a lot of what we are doing.
"Impatience is a big part of our issue on offense right now. You can point to a number things, they beat us at the free-throw line and while we outrebounded them, you look at the 14 offensive rebounds and it didn't seem like we had a lot of finishes to go with them.
"We've got work to do, I'm saying the obvious, but I really believe we are better than we just played."
The free-throw shooting was a big part of why the Seminoles, who led, 37-31, at the half, were able to hold a slight lead for most of the second half and why Pitt, which tied the score twice in the second half, was never able to take a lead.
The Seminoles made 27 of 31 free throws, going 20 of 24 in the second half. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said that was by design as they got more aggressive going to the basket in the second half and were fortunate enough to draw contact.
"They were getting to the foul line early because they were a little more aggressive than we were, but at the end we started getting to the foul line and that helped us get a little separation and that helped us pull the game out," Hamilton said. "At one point in time Pitt had shot 15 more free throws than we did about midway through the second half because they were being much more aggressive, they were attacking off the bounce and we couldn't get out of the way. They were forcing contact and getting to the foul line.
"They were smart in the approach but we called a timeout and after that we became more aggressive and we got to the foul line."
The fact that the Seminoles shot 31 free throws to the Panthers' 28 wasn't the real issue. The real issue was that the Panthers made only 18 (64 percent), and that included missing two that would have given them their first lead of the second half.
"They only missed four free throws, we missed 10," said Pitt junior Cameron Wright. "You put that together and we win the ballgame."
Pitt chipped away at the Seminoles' halftime lead and finally tied the score at 42-42 on two free throws by Talib Zanna with 12:19 to play. The Panthers tied it a second time down the stretch -- at 48-48 with 6:50 to play -- but could not take the lead despite several opportunities.
Florida State's Okaro White then made the back-breaking shot of the game with 2:17 left when he hit a desperation 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock which rolled around the rim and went in and gave the Seminoles a 58-52 lead.
"That was huge, that was huge," Hamilton said of White's 3-pointer. "We were a little out of sorts at the time and clock running down, that was a big-time play. We had a lot of guys who made big plays, we got some big rebounds and some stops."
Lamar Patterson led Pitt with 22 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Panthers next play Wednesday at Boston College (7-20, 3-11) and then Saturday at Notre Dame (14-14, 5-10) in what likely becomes two must-win games.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published February 23, 2014 8:32 PM