The Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team may have lost their chance of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, after suffering a huge blow with a 69-66 loss at the hands of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Sunday night.
“Extremely disappointing to be up and not finish,” coach Jaime Dixon, who has led the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the past 12 years, told the Tribune-Review’s John Harris. ” We battled back from a slow start and put ourselves in position to win. I thought we really battled hard, really got after things. But at the end of the day, turnovers and missed free throws allowed us to lose our lead. That killed us.”
Leading 60-53 with 5:36 remaining in the game, Pitt was outscored 11 -1 over the next three minutes. The Panthers missed both of their field goal attempts and was 1-of-4 from the free throw line during the Wake Forest run.
Pitt still had a chance at victory late in the game, as the Panthers got within 64-63 on a pair of free throws by James Robinson with 2:21 left. But the Panthers couldn’t execute down the stretch, offensively. Pitt missed their next two shots and then committed three turnovers — with two by sophomore forward Jamel Artis — in the final 34 seconds. The Demon Deacons (13-16, 5-11 ACC) took advantage of the Panthers’ mistakes and increased their lead to 69-63 before Artis knocked down a three-point with one second on the clock.
“Down the stretch we didn’t get it done,” Artis said. “We didn’t get the loose balls, we didn’t get the stops on defense.”
Sophomore Michael Young led the way with 22 points for Pittsburgh, which lost to Wake Forest for the first time in school history. Artis had 19 points and nine rebounds while Cameron Wright contributed 11 points.
Pitt (19-11, 8-8) came into the squarely on the bubble but is now one of the first four teams out according to ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi.
The Panthers have a RPI of 49 and strength of schedule of 38. But they are just 5-9 away from the Petersen Center — with one of those victories coming against D-II Chaminade — and 2-7 against RPI top-50 teams. In addition, Pitt has two losses against sub-150 RPI teams — No. 164 Hawaii (74-70) and No. 213 Virginia Tech (70-67).
Pittsburgh is currently ninth in the ACC but has a chance to improve their position prior to the conference tournament. The Panthers have two more regular season games to play, at home against Miami (March 4) and at Florida State (March 7). By winning both games, Pitt could conceivably move as high as No. 5 or they could fall to No. 10, if they drop both games.
As of right now, Pitt is slated to play No. 8 seed North Carolina State in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. That means the Panthers would play No. 1 seed Virginia in the quarterfinals if they got past N.C. State.
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