Pitt's Damon Wilson puts up a shot next to teammate Sheldon Jeter as Georgia Tech's Quinton Stephens, left, and Adam Smith, right, watch in the first half.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA — After Pitt beat Duke a week ago at Petersen Events Center, the conventional wisdom was that the Panthers were a lock to get into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happened in their final two regular-season games.
Apparently, the Panthers want to test that theory.
Pitt blew a seven-point halftime lead Saturday at Georgia Tech and lost, 63-59, in the regular-season finale at McCamish Pavilion.
It was the Panthers’ second loss in a row and they dropped to the No. 8 seed for the ACC tournament, which starts Tuesday for seeds 11-14, at Verizon Center in Washington.
The Panthers (20-10, 9-9) will play No. 9-seeded Syracuse (19-12, 9-9) at noon Wednesday in the second round, and the winner will advance to play at noon Thursday in the quarterfinals against the No. 1 seed.
That Pitt will play Syracuse is likely the only good news that came out of the loss Saturday because the Panthers have owned the Orange under coach Jamie Dixon.
Pitt has won four games in a row against the Orange — including both matchups this season — and Dixon is 14-6 against Syracuse in his 13 seasons as coach of the Panthers. But again, that’s a very small silver lining considering what a disappointing end this has been for the Panthers, who had aspirations of finishing in the top four seeds and earning a double-bye in the ACC tournament after their big upset of the Blue Devils.
And much like their loss Wednesday at Virginia Tech, shooting was a big reason they couldn’t get it done against the Yellow Jackets.
Pitt was 0 for 11 from 3-point range against the Yellow Jackets, and that performance came on the heels of the Panthers making just 3 of 21 3-pointers Wednesday at Virginia Tech.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted, obviously, and a couple of things stand out,” Dixon said. “Obviously our shooting, once again, this is two games in a row that our numbers were where they are at and this is what you get. I thought we played hard, but we got outrebounded — we are just not good enough to win on the road against a team that is playing well.
“We had our opportunities, we had the lead, but we didn’t get it done and so this is another disappointing loss. But you look at the numbers — you go 0 for 11 from the 3-point line and get outrebounded, [41-34], you don’t leave yourself many other opportunities to give yourself a chance to win.”
The lone bright spot for Pitt was Michael Young, who was 10 of 16 from the field and had 24 points and seven rebounds, but he didn’t have much help from his teammates. Sheldon Jeter, who had 12 points, was the only other Pitt player who reached double figures.
Dixon said it is hard to understand why his team has struggled to score so much the past two games because the Panthers had shot well the past few weeks.
And he also knows that while the conventional wisdom is that the Panthers are still an at-large candidate for the NCAA tournament, they are clearly in a much weaker position than they were just a week ago and likely need to win Wednesday in order to feel safe.
“This puts in a situation where we are going to have to go do something going forward,” Dixon said. “This is another tough loss for us, a bad loss in that we didn’t make shots and didn’t play the way we want to play. ... I don’t know where we are at. We lost two in a row, though, and a week ago everyone was saying how good we were and now we will be questioned. We’ve got to answer, we have to do something about it, we’ve got to respond the right way.”
Pitt took advantage of a few careless plays by Georgia Tech and closed the first half on a 10-4 spurt to lead, 36-29, at halftime.
The Panthers were powered in the first half mostly by Young, who scored 18 of his points before halftime and made eight of the team’s 14 first-half field goals.
Georgia Tech started the second half on a 13-6 run and tied the score at 42-42 after a 3-pointer by Adam Smith with 14:22 to play.
Smith made a second 3 with 6:24 left to give the Yellow Jackets their first lead of the second half at 56-55, then they pushed it to 58-55 on a dunk by Nick Jacobs.
Pitt went almost four minutes without scoring — the Panthers were 0 for 8 from the field in that stretch — but finally James Robinson hit a jumper in the lane and Georgia Tech’s lead was only 58-57 with 2:47 left.
“I couldn’t tell you, I really don’t know — what did we shoot from the 3-point line ... 0 for 11. Well maybe we need to get into the gym and work on that,” Jeter said when asked about Pitt’s shooting the past two games. “We are usually a pretty good 3-point-shooting team and it is not like we are taking bad shots — these are just clean misses, good looks, we are just missing them.”
Smith hit another 3 with 2:10 left that pushed the Yellow Jackets lead to 61-57 and the Panthers only scored once more the rest of the way.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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