Here are 10 pivotal moments in Pitt’s 71-70 loss to Butler on Saturday night at Verizon Center. They are ranked in no particular order with comments from Pitt coach Jamie Dixon or the Pitt players on the different situations, if applicable.
No. 10 – Foul play: Nine minutes and two seconds into the game, Pitt is called for its first team foul, when Dante Taylor is whistled. The Butler fans offer mock cheers. No one could have imagined how much the refs would play a role in this game.
No. 9 – In-bound: At times, Pitt had trouble in-bounding the ball against a Butler team that had done its homework. With Pitt down 20-14, trying to inbound under the Butler basket, Brandin Knight had seen enough. He jumped up, stomped his feet and yelled to the team, “Act like you want it.”
No. 9 – Flop-house: In a sign of things to come, Lamar Patterson is called after a defensive rebound for “elbowing” Matt Howard, who clearly exaggerated the “foul.” The crowd – a mixture of Pitt, Butler, UConn and Cincinnati fans – explodes in disapproval. Moments later, Butler’s Hahn hits a trey for a 23-16 lead.
No. 8 – Good and Brad: Brad Wanamaker, who had two field goals in his previous 54 minutes spanning three-plus games, including a nine-foot airball in the first half, has two baskets in a 3:08 span to give Pitt a 43-41 lead with 14:30 to play, its first lead since the opening minutes.
No. 7 – No charge: With Pitt leading 53-50 and holding the momentum with 9:30 to play, Gilbert Brown is called for a charging after Howard flopped. It was Pitt’s seventh team foul. Butler scores on its next possession to make it 53-52, a five-point swing on what should have been 56-50.
“Some of the flops, it was hard to witness the referees just call it,” Brown said. “It could have been the other way if we had set the tone of the game from the first half.”
No. 6 – Big misses: With Pitt down 66-65,Travon Woodall takes a wild shot, misses and then fouls Shevlin Mack, who makes a free throw for his 30th points of the game and a 67-65 Butler lead. With a minute to play and Pitt leading 69-68, Brown, who had his best game in three months with 24 points, missed a jumper out of a Panther timeout.
No. 5 – Shot-clock: Leading 69-68, Pitt has the ball with 45 seconds to play. But Ashton Gibbs takes too long to get the play going, Nasir Robinson passes up a shot and, after the shot-clock violation, Butler gets the ball back with 9.2 seconds to play. Pitt has no chance at an offensive rebound and the clock stops immediately.
“We passed up an open shot that we probably should have taken and maybe made an extra pass that we shouldn’t have done,” Dixon said. “That was our mistake.”
No. 4 – Go-ahead bucket – With Pitt six seconds away from the Sweet 16, Shawn Vanzant gets a step on Brown driving to the basket. Gary McGhee slides over to help. Vanzant finds Andrew Smith for an open layup and a 70-69 lead. It marked the 11th time this season that Pitt allowed opposing points in the final five seconds of the first or second halves, and sets into motion one of the strangest endings in NCAA Tournament history.
“(Vanzant) had an angle to score,” McGhee said. “I stepped over. Somebody helped me and stepped over in front of my man and he just stepped through and made the layup.”
No. 3 – Brown-out: After what Mack calls the biggest mistakes of his life by fouling Brown with 1.4 second left, the Pitt fifth-year senior and 78-percent marksman from the line misses the potential go-ahead foul shot. Brown said Mack’s efforts to disrupt him with some pre-shot trash talk didn’t play a factor.
“I felt it was going in,” Brown said. “That’s just how it is.”
No. 2 – Bad spot: With the game seemingly headed to overtime, Nasir Robinson smacks Howard on the arm after he rebounds the Brown FT miss with 0.8 seconds left. An emotional Robinson takes the blame for the loss in the post-game locker room.
A couple of minutes later, Dixon is asked why he had players lined up on the free throw lane. Dixon defended the tactic, saying he was confident Brown was going to make both shots.
“Everybody will question that,” Dixon said. “I think we did what everybody would have done. You want your shooter to be comfortable. You don’t want to take him out of rhythm after hitting his first one. There was a little bit of time there. We were confident in the huddle about two makes and what we were going to do. I think there’s no question that that’s the best way to do that. We put ourselves in the right position and sometimes things don’t work out.”
No. 1 – Reaction: Howard makes the first free throw for a 71-70 lead and misses the second on purpose, as Pitt becomes only the 14th No. 1 seed out of 106 tries to lose before the Sweet 16 since the 1985 expansion.
The national media wonders about the officials taking the players out of the game and if the whistles should be swallowed at that point. John Adams, the National Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officiating, is asked what he would tell the Pitt fans in the wake of their loss. His answer: “Don’t foul with hardly any time left on the clock.”