Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via Associated Press
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the team's NCAA tournament hopes are in good shape, citing the Panther's strength of schedule.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — Wednesday’s Pitt-Syracuse ACC tournament matchup was seen by some as an elimination game, with both teams desperately needing a win to shore up their resume for the NCAA tournament.
Pitt prevailed, 72-71, which means the Panthers (21-10) likely clinched their berth, and the Orange (19-13) are left to sweat it out until Sunday when tournament brackets are unveiled.
Both coaches made their case after the game, though Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim was reluctant to talk about it.
“No comment, I don’t know what [the NCAA tournament committee] is going to do,” he said. “I know we have beaten four teams in the top 30 or 35 in the country. We have beaten eight teams in the top 100. If there’s a better team than that, so be it. We’ll see what happens.”
Syracuse is a bit of a special case because Boeheim was suspended for nine games this season because his program violated NCAA rules. Committee members have said Boeheim missing those games will be a factor in how the team is evaluated.
“I’ve always thought the NCAA committee was not the infractions committee,” Boeheim said. “I thought it was the NCAA basketball committee. I thought it was their job to pick the best teams for the tournament.”
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the Panthers should definitely be in the field and clearly wanted to make a point that their schedule — when evaluated as a whole — was one of the toughest in the country. Of course, the ACC schedule propped up Pitt’s overall strength of schedule, but its non-conference slate has been criticized as weak.
“We’re in good shape,” Dixon said. “We’ve lost to quality teams. Our strength of schedule is one of the best in the country overall, which is what you look at. It is clearly shown by the numbers, if you go by facts, not opinions.
“We have now beaten a very good team three times. They have shown how good they are with coach Boeheim and with their wins as well.”
The Panthers had a lot of close losses this season, but one team that beat them handily was North Carolina. The Tar Heels humbled them, 85-64, Feb. 14 at Dean Smith Center.
Pitt was never in that game. Forward Mike Young said it was just a bad day and believes the Panthers will play much better Thursday when the teams meet in an ACC quarterfinal. “We never really got into the flow of that game. They played well and once we got down we never were able to get back into the game.
“But this time around I think we will be better. We are playing better, and I think we have a sense of urgency to try and win this [tournament].”
Playing long ball
Redshirt freshman Cameron Johnson had a career-high 24 points Wednesday and was 4 of 11 beyond the 3-point line. Two of those were from deep — teammate Ryan Luther described them as “NBA range” and “crazy” — and Johnson laughed when asked if Dixon is a fan of him hoisting such long shots.
“To be honest, when I get the ball I don’t really look for the [3-point] line or see where I am at,” Johnson said. “I just look up when I get ready to shoot and wherever the rim is — whether it is close or far — I just try and take the same shot.
“I don’t think Coach likes them that much, but I feel comfortable shooting them out there no matter how far I am.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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