Pitt edges Georgia Tech, stays alive another day in ACC Tournament
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was midway through the second half, and Pitt coach Kevin Stallings stood a few feet in front of the bench, spying Ryan Luther from the corner of his eye.
The expletives that poured from Stallings dissected the silence at Barclays Center.
Stallings' passion mirrored that of his players, who extended their season with a 61-59 victory over Georgia Tech on Tuesday in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The win was not a panacea for a disappointing season marred by suspensions, injuries and the recent dismissal of freshman guard Justice Kithcart. But it guaranteed 14th-seeded Pitt (16-16) will play at least one more game, with a meeting against sixth-seeded and 21st-ranked Virginia (21-9) awaiting at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
“This is it for us,” said Michael Young, who led the Panthers with 17 points.
“We believe. Our coaches believe, the whole program believes we can do something special in this tournament. And that's what we came here to do. And that's what I believe we're going to do.”
Sheldon Jeter finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Jamel Artis and Jones had 11 points apiece.
Pitt and Virginia split the regular-season series, with each team winning on its home court. The Cavaliers prevailed 67-42 on Saturday in a game marked by Stalling's decision to sit Young and Artis for the first 10 minutes for being 10 minutes late to a team function. The Panthers won 88-76 in overtime Jan. 5.
The last time Pitt and Georgia Tech (17-15) played, the Panthers absorbed a 61-52 loss Feb. 28 at McCamish Pavilion. In that game, the Panthers misfired on 33 of 53 shots.
The rematch was different, even though there were statistical similarities. Pitt shot 38.9 percent from the field and had two more assists than turnovers (15-13). What changed?
“We fought,” Stallings said. “We were able to make plays.”
Pitt led until Quinton Stephens' free throw 6 minutes, 19 seconds into the second half put the Yellow Jackets ahead 36-35.
Tech pushed its lead to 41-37 following a Josh Okogie layup.
“They attacked the whole game,” Young said of Georgia Tech. “Down 20, up 20, they're going to keep attacking, push the ball up, attack, get up to the rim.”
Then the team Stallings has criticized all season for its flaws pushed back. Chris Jones and Jonathan Milligan knocked down 3s, the latter allowing Pitt to regain the lead 43-41.
“I think seniors feel urgency. I think the tournament represented sort of a different beginning, a different start,” Stallings said. “I think that they kind of took it upon themselves to approach this a little bit differently, a little better.”
Jeter followed with a layup, and Jones made another 3 to extend the lead to 48-41. A tip-in from Tech's Ben Lammers and four Okogie free throws put Tech ahead 49-48.
Jackson led Tech with 17 points. Stephens had 16 and Okogie chipped in 15.
Young and Artis responded with 3s of their own, sandwiched around Tadric Jackson's driving layup, as the Panthers took a 54-51 lead they would not relinquish. The lead grew to seven after a Young layup and two Artis free throws.
“It was a great feeling to see the ball go in at that point in time because I knew it was very crucial,” Artis said. “My team needed that. I ain't ever going to stop shooting.”
Georgia Tech closed to within 58-55 after two Stephens free throws and an Okogie layup.
Jones made a free throw with 25 seconds left, and Tech missed two 3-point attempts before Okogie's putback with 12 seconds remaining cut Pitt's lead to 59-57. Cameron Johnson and Artis each made free throws before a deflected inbounds pass sealed the win.
Denis P. Gorman is a freelance writer.