In a game of peaks and valleys much like its season, Georgetown looked as if it finally had Pittsburgh beaten yesterday. Then an improbable Panthers basket and a potential game-winning shot that didn’t quite make it through the hoop left the Hoyas demoralized.
Georgetown freshman Drew Hall, who had buried two huge free throws seconds earlier, had his 3-point attempt rim out with about four seconds left as Georgetown fell to Pitt 68-67 in a significant battle in Big East’s West Division yesterday at MCI Center.
The winning points came with eight seconds left on Jaron Brown’s tip-in of Brandin Knight’s jumper. Hoyas point guard Kevin Braswell then dashed upcourt, stopped at the top of the key and dished to the open Hall, whose jumper rattled out. The Hoyas couldn’t corral the rebound.
“That shot was a good shot, and I’ll live with that shot,” said coach Craig Esherick, who typically does not call a timeout in that situation and liked having Braswell, a senior, handling the ball. “I thought the ball was in. In fact, it went in and then came back out.”
The Hoyas had put together a rousing comeback, shaking their difficulties with Pitt’s zone defense to erase a 16-point deficit, and Hall’s two free throws with 51.6 seconds to go forged a 66-66 tie. Braswell made a brilliant steal on the Panthers’ next possession to give sophomore Mike Sweetney, 15-for-16 from the free throw line to that point, two free throws with 42.5 seconds left. He missed the first, leaving the door open for Brown’s tip-in.
“I can’t even explain [the feeling],” said Braswell, who had eight points and six assists. “We worked hard to come back and had the game won. And for them to get the offensive putback, it really hurts.”
It was still a strong game for Sweetney, who fought through double- and triple-team coverage all afternoon to finish with a game-high 24 points, including his 16-for-18 free throw performance. However, the conference’s leading rebounder added just four, nearly six below his average, and the Hoyas were outrebounded 35-28.
“I thought I should have made that second-to-last free throw that was a key free throw,” Sweetney said. “You need a lot of concentration going in situations like that.”
The final seconds were crushing for Georgetown (11-6, 2-3), which was trying for three straight conference victories and second place in the West Division. Esherick said the game hinged on the Hoyas’ inability to stretch their lead late in the first half when they led by 11. Pitt (16-3, 4-2) came back to trail by three at the half.
Panthers guard Julius Page, encouraged by coach Ben Howland to become more aggressive offensively, carried the scoring load for the team in the second half, when he scored 13 of his 18 points despite mostly facing Braswell’s man-to-man defense. Page’s effort was magnified because leading scorer Knight was battling a strained calf and hadn’t practiced Thursday or Friday. Knight finished with 11 points and seven assists in 38 minutes.
Both teams looked like they could seize command of the game at different stretches, but neither did.
Hot shooting carried the Panthers to a 19-10 lead, but with the Hoyas’ man-to-man defense coming on, Georgetown erupted for a 22-2 run to take a 32-21 lead 2:30 before halftime; Pittsburgh managed just two field goals in the half’s last 9:30.
But the Hoyas couldn’t extend their lead and committed several unnecessary fouls at the end of the half. The Panthers edged back into the game on six free throws and Chevon Troutman’s layup that cut the score to 32-29 at halftime.
Pitt continued to surge early in the second half, harnessing the cold-shooting Hoyas with a 2-3 zone defense, and led by as many as 16 points with 9:26 left.
“When we went zone, it made them more preoccupied with their offense than harassing us defensively,” Howland said.
But the Hoyas rallied again, and behind 15 second-half points from Sweetney, they came all the way back, only to have the game slip away on Brown’s basket.