For Pitt freshmen, 1st and only Big East Tournament leaves impression
NEW YORK — For Pitt freshmen Steven Adams and James Robinson, their first trip to the Big East Tournament also was their last. And it left a sour taste in their mouths.
Adams and Robinson played more minutes in Pitt's 62-59 loss to Syracuse on Thursday than any of the Panthers save fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall. Yet both admitted they came up short when it mattered most in their final Big East tournament before joining the ACC.
For Adams, that came at the start of the game. The New Zealand native was awestruck by the crowd of 20,057 at Madison Square Garden, a good percentage of which was pro-Orange, and failed to dominate the paint in the first half against foul-prone Rakeem Christmas.
“The first half, I guess, we were just taken aback by the crowd, the whole atmosphere,” Adams said. “Well, I was. I'm not going to speak for them, but I was kind of taken away by it.”
For Robinson, it was in the finish. His turnover with 13 seconds left with Pitt trailing by three and Michael Carter-Williams' steal and two free throws prevented the Panthers from having a chance to tie the score.
“I'm pretty mad. I think I should have made a better play, obviously, at the end,” Robinson said. “But I'm going to learn from it, and I think I'm going to get better because of it, and we're going to get better as a team.”
One person who would probably back that claim is Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who noted that Carter-Williams' shining moment was born out of a darker one. Before making 6 of 8 free throws to finish with 11 points, seven assists and three steals against Pitt, Carter-Williams was 7 of 15 in an 83-79 loss to Temple at the Garden in December.
“Sometimes,” Boeheim said, “you have to go through those bad experiences to come back in this situation and be able to make them.”
Thursday marked the first time Robinson didn't come through in the clutch. More often, the 6-foot-3 point guard has been the Panthers' hero. He made a key steal and two tying free throws with 10 seconds left against Oakland, sank two 3-pointers against Connecticut, made two free throws with nine seconds left at Providence and hit the tying 3 to send the Villanova game into overtime, where he made another key trey.
This time, he missed the front end of a two-shot foul with Pitt trailing, 56-51, with 3:29 remaining then made the critical turnover.
“I guess it just happens,” Robinson said. “I expected to make the free throw. I expected to complete the play that I turned over, but I guess it didn't go our way. We're going to get better from it and bounce back.”
One thing is certain: Robinson still has his teammates' confidence.
“It was just a mistake — not a freshman mistake, just an honest mistake,” Woodall said. “The guy comes through for us all the time. It was a crucial moment, but there were a lot of plays before that that dug us into a hole. We should have never even been in that situation. Honestly, if we had to do it 10 times over again, I'll replay that play with him.”
Although Robinson has been more spectacular at times than Adams, the 7-foot center might be the key to the Panthers making an NCAA Tournament run if he can elevate his game above his 7.1-point and 6.2-rebound season averages.
Adams showed in the first game against DePaul (nine points, 14 rebounds) and Seton Hall (eight points, 15 rebounds) that he can dominate the interior, and his 13-point, four-block effort at Cincinnati showcased his offensive repertoire and defensive athleticism.
“It's not me individually. It's the whole team,” Adams said. “We have to make that bond. We ain't going to win a championship if one of us just tries to take it all. If we work as a team, that's much better than our individual styles.
“Do I think I can bring more? Yeah. I guess so. Honestly, I'm working hard. I'm just trying to do what Jamie says — I'm sorry, Coach Dixon — and do it to the best of my abilities. I'm not trying to change his system. If you look at it, the postseason ain't time to experiment. You have to go with what works. That's one of the tough things, trying not to stray away from your system.”