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The Greatest Comeback

Pitt media relations director Greg Hotchkiss asked for postgame interview requests in the final minutes of Friday night’s Backyard BasketBrawl, preparing to send out usual suspects Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker to talk about getting swept by West Virginia for the first time in five years.
I asked for Travon Woodall, if Pitt won.
That raised some eyebrows on press row, considering the Panthers hadn’t led since the 8:45 mark of the first half and trailed by seven points with 56.9 seconds remaining in regulation. But Woodall had a huge impact on this game between the Big East arch rivals.
And, for some reason, I had a feeling this was Louisville redux.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was even better.
No. 25 Pitt pulled a 98-95 triple-overtime victory over No. 5 WVU before a sellout crowd in the longest game in Petersen Events Center history, a three-hour contest that tied a 34-year-old record for longest in school history (Pitt won at George Washington, 76-73, in triple overtime on Jan. 10, 1976).
On Jan. 16 at the Pete, Pitt rallied from a five-point deficit in the final 54 seconds, as Brad Wanamaker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and added two free throws to tie it at 69-69 with 1.9 seconds left to send it into overtime. The Panthers won, 82-77.
To repeat that outcome, Pitt first would have to overcome Dixon fouling out. Woodall replaced him with 49.5 seconds left, and promptly found Ashton Gibbs in the right corner for a basket that cut it to 66-61. Woodall then drew a foul, made both free throws and it was 66-63 with 34.4 seconds remaining. But Gibbs fouled Darryl Bryant, who answered with a pair of free throws for a 68-63 lead. Woodall hit a baseline floater to cut it to 68-65.
Then, Wanamaker made a play that is giving him a reputation as a clutch player. He stole the inbounds pass near the sideline, managed to stay inbounds — even Wanamaker admitted that he thought he was out — and flipped it to Woodall, who zipped it to Gibbs on the right wing.
Gibbs drained it to tie the game with 22.4 seconds left.
And the longest game in the history of the Pete was just about to get started.
The Panthers jumped out to a 75-70 lead in the first overtime, thanks to Wanamaker’s three-point play and jumper in the lane and Gary McGhee’s two free throws. Devin Ebanks cut it to 75-72 with two free throws and Da’Sean Butler added three more to tie it. Then Woodall skipped a bounce pass to a slashing Brown in the lane for a dunk.
West Virgina’s Kevin Jones missed a 3-pointer but backup forward Cam Thoroughman grabbed the rebound and the Mountaineers called timeout, trailing, 77-75, with 25.3 seconds left. Butler missed a 3-pointer and Gibbs rebounded and was fouled.
Exactly what Pitt wanted, as both teams were in double bonus.
Gibbs made the front end, for a three-point lead.
Then, inexplicably, Pitt’s best free-throw shooter missed the back end.
Bryant sank a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left to tie it.
And we were headed for double overtime.
This is when the beat writers start stressing out over their game stories. Because of the ESPN national telecast, the game didn’t tip off until 9 p.m. and the first-edition deadlines were already blown. The extra periods eliminated any chance of getting the game story in the second edition, as well. Safe to say, I didn’t envy Trib beat writer John Grupp.
Gibbs nailed a 3 to start the second overtime, but Bryant answered in kind. Brown hit two free throws, but Jones hit a 15-foot jumper. Woodall missed a pair of free throws at 1:30, leaving the game tied at 83-83.
Then came what could have been the play of the game.
Bryant beat a defender off the dribble to the left and lofted a shot. McGhee soared to swat it, and the Panthers gained possession. Wanamaker came up with another three-point play for an 86-83 lead with 52.2 seconds remaining.
Butler cut it to one, but Woodall hit two free throws for an 88-85 lead.
Then, inexplicably, McGhee fouled Butler on a 25-foot 3-point attempt at 20.6 seconds.
Butler made all three free throw, tying the game.
Wanamaker got off a shot that McGhee tried twice to tip in. The ball ended up in Woodall’s hands, and he hesitated for a moment before sinking a 14-footer. The officials waved it off, then reviewed a video replay. It showed that time had expired before Woodall released it.
And we were headed for triple overtime.
West Virginia hadn’t led in overtime until Butler’s jumper gave the Mountaineers a 90-88 lead. Brown responded with a three-point play 26 seconds later, but Butler tied it at 91-91 with 3:41 on a play where Wanamaker fouled out. Nasir Robinson’s tip-in gave Pitt a two-point edge, but at 2:56, Woodall picked up his fifth foul.
Suddenly, two of the catalysts of the comeback were relegated to Pitt’s bench.
But Robinson went to work on the offensive glass — Pitt was outrebounded, 51-44, for the game but won the battle of the boards, 22-8, in OT — and drew a foul after grabbing a Gibbs 3-point miss. Robinson made the first for a 94-93 edge.
But Butler, who finished with a game-high 32 points, ran off a pick and hit an 8-footer for a 95-94 lead with 40.6 seconds left. Then Brown drew a foul, made both shots and gave Pitt a 96-95 edge it wouldn’t surrender.
The Mountaineers tried to run a set play for Butler, but the Panthers smothered him and Ebanks panicked. He launched a shot from the top of the key that missed and McGhee grabbed the rebound. Gibbs made a smart play, trying to rip it out of McGhee’s hands, and the Mountaineers ultimately fouled Pitt’s best free-throw shooter.
This time, Gibbs sank both.
After three hours, the Panthers pulled off one of the greatest comeback victories in school history. And my feature story in the Sunday section is on, you guessed it, Woodall.

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