Jasper Wilson (@wilson_jasper)
Overcoming a first half and game more generally hampered by an abundance of fouls and offensive troubles, Pitt and Villanova played to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday.
In a game in which the lead was always one or two possessions away from changing hands as it wore on, Villanova coach Jay Wright knew what would decide the outcome was the ability to halt the opposition.
“Playing a Big East game, that’s what it’s gonna come down to.” Wright said. “You gotta a stop at one end.”
The visitors wouldn’t get that crucial stop as Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson found himself wide open on the right baseline with under a minute to go and tied the game at 57 with a three.
“We were helping off him, but we didn’t want to give up an open shot, so that was poor execution,” Wright said.
He lamented the team’s inability to take advantage of what he called a great opportunity to win the game on the final play of the half.
“We had the ball on the last possession of the game. We run [the clock] down,” he said. “ We don’t get a shot off. We get a baseline inbounds and we don’t get a shot off. You don’t deserve to win.”
A bounce pass intended for senior center Mouphtaou Yarou off the inbounds with 3.3 seconds left got deflected by a Pitt player, and the clock ran out, sending things to overtime.
In the extra period, redshirt junior big man Talib Zanna would score nine of Pitt’s 16 points. He finished with 14 and nine rebounds as the Panthers won 73-64.
“He was a beast,” Wright said ”Just a beast.”
Freshman Ryan Arciadiacono led the Wildcats (18-11, 9-7 Big East) with 23 points but had difficulty building off his early success after Robinson began to guard him following his 13-point first half.
“[I was just] trying to be solid. Ryan really wanted to make a lot of shots down the end,” Robinson said. “So just kind of not really deny him the ball but just shadow him wherever he went on the court and knowing that if I did get beat, my guys would be there to help me out.”
With the victory the Panthers move to 22-7 overall and 10-6 in conference play.
The performances of players beyond just those of seniors Dante Taylor and Tray Woodall on Pitt’s Senior Day would prove vital to Pitt’s staying within reach and then pulling ahead redshirt freshmen Durand Johnson shot a perfect three for three from three-point range, all in the second half.
“So many different guys gave us the minutes we needed. It says a lot,” head coach Jamie Dixon said.
Besides Arciadiacono, Yarou, and JayVaughn Pinkston finished in doubles figures with 14 and 13 points respectively.
Wright later modified what he felt the team did wrong.
“We did execute. We didn’t make good decisions,” he said. We wanted to help off Robinson we just helped too much. We wanted to look into Mouph we just didn’t want to throw a bounce pass. “
The loss plunges Nova further down into bubble purgatory as the regular season approaches its end, a reality the coach refuses to face.
I know we’re going to have to deal with it. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t think about it, he said. “That’s the way we do it.”
It took Pitt the duration of the contest to figure out Nova but when it did, it pulled away.
“We were short handed and then we had all the fouls… We had to play small we had to play different lineups,” Dixon said. “We had to throw everything we had at them to find a way. And we finally did and just battled back.”
With the finality of the season becoming more and more apparent as each game passes, the difficulty of each contest increases.
“You know you’re running out of time,” Wright said.