Ron Cook: Pitt was fairly bad but Wake Forest was even worse
February 17, 2016 12:15 AM
Pitt's Rafael Maia pulls down a rebound against Wake Forest' Mitchell Wilbekin in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt’s Chris Jones drives for two of his game-high 23 points.
Pitt's Rafael Maia reaches for a rebound against Wake Forest's Konstantinos Mitoglou in the second half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Jamel Artis reaches for a loose ball against Wake Forest's Cornelius Hudson in the second half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon looks for a foul call as they take on Wake Forest in the second half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Wake Forest's Doral Moore dunks in front of Pitt's Jamel Artis and Ryan Luther in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Rafael Maia drives to the net against Wake Forest's Konstantinos Mitoglou in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, as the Pitt-Wake Forest game went into the second overtime, many in one of the worst Petersen Events Center crowds in years headed into the cold, dark night.
It wasn’t because they were afraid of tough winter conditions on the drive home or because they had to go to school or work this morning.
It was because they had seen enough bad basketball for one night. I would say the two teams set the sport back 50 years, but that would be unfairly insulting to basketball of the 1960s. You’ve heard of games when it’s a shame one team has to lose? It was a shame one had to win this one. Pitt escaped, 101-96. It wasn’t because it was good. It was because Wake Forest is so bad.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tried to put a positive spin on it. “This was a great win for us. We beat a good team. We battled. We competed. I’m very proud of our kids.” That might sound nice, but it’s utter nonsense. The Pitt program, so strong and so proud for so long, is a mess right now. It’s hard to believe it won the Big East championship and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament just five years ago.
After this night, that seems like a lifetime ago.
Pitt didn’t just need the two overtimes, it needed a 58-35 rebounding edge and a 16-for-32 free-throw shooting performance by Wake Forest to beat a team that came into its building with 10 consecutive losses and a 1-12 record in the ACC.
I didn’t expect Dixon to say he has a lousy team or that the season is over with five ACC games left plus the conference tournament. Miracles do happen. Maybe Pitt will beat Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on the road and Louisville and Duke at home to roll into the postseason. Sure, it will.
Still, I’ve never seen Dixon in denial like this.
He opened his post-game news conference by praising the crowd and the Oakland Zoo. I know what great crowds are at Petersen Events Center. I was there when Pitt beat No. 1 Connecticut in 2009.
Heck, I was there Feb. 6 when Pitt played Virginia. Those were great crowds. The one Tuesday night was not. Once, Pitt had regular, throbbing sellouts of 12,508.
Attendance this time was 8,825. The end zones of the Oakland Zoo were empty. So were many sections of the upper deck.
That’s not the fans’ fault or the students’ fault. Pitt was awful in that game against Virginia and then lost two on the road at Miami and North Carolina. It hadn’t looked like much of an NCAA tournament team all season. It was 0-5 against ranked opponents, four of the losses by double digits. It hadn’t earned better support this season.
Nothing that happened Tuesday night changed that. Boos poured down on Pitt when Jamel Artis was careless with an inbounds pass after a Wake Forest basket and Bryant Crawford immediately turned it into another Wake Forest score for a 22-15 lead. The crowd was restless again in the second half when Pitt — maybe the most defensively challenged team of the Dixon era — wasted a 56-46 lead by allowing Wake Forest to go on a 10-0 run.
But Wake Forest is so bad that it never felt as if it would win the game even though it ripped through Pitt’s lame defense to shot 50.7 percent from the field, including 41.4 percent on 3-point shots.
Certainly, Wake Forest had a great chance in the first overtime when Cornelius Hudson went to the free-throw line with 25.2 seconds left with Wake Forest ahead, 82-81. Of course, he missed both foul shots. Pitt’s Ryan Luther then missed two free throws with 10.7 seconds left, giving Wake Forest another chance. It blew that one, too, when Codi Miller-McIntyre’s inbounds pass was intercepted by James Robinson, who made one free throw to send the game to a second overtime.
“I thought James was terrific,” Dixon said.
I’ll agree with that point. Chris Jones made five 3-point shots and had 23 points and Rafael Maia was a force with 12 rebounds, but Robinson was the big reason Pitt managed to avoid what might have been the worst loss in Petersen Events Center history considering the poor opponent and that Pitt was playing to keep its fading NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Robinson, who took most of the criticism during Pitt’s three-game losing streak, hit a 3-point shot to tie the score, 72-72, at the end of regulation.
He made that steal and free throw in the first overtime. He made a jump shot, set up Artis for a basket, had five defensive rebounds and made five free throws down the stretch in the second overtime. His final line: 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 0 turnovers.
Robinson saved Pitt from even more embarrassment.
But back to Dixon, who, apparently, watched a different game than I did.
“It speaks to how hard we’re playing. We know we’re not a perfect team right now. But we’re not frustrated. We’re not giving up. We’re going to get better. People might look at me like I’m crazy. We’re 25 games in. But I believe we’ll get better.”
Count me among those people.
You know, the ones who think Dixon is crazy.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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