Wichita State hands deflated Pitt another early exit from NCAA tourney
SALT LAKE CITY — Dante Taylor's swollen right eye was sewn by stitches. Lamar Patterson's small bandage only partially covered the scratch beneath his right eye. J.J. Moore's bottom lip was bloody. James Robinson sobbed uncontrollably while slumped against his locker. Steven Adams choked back tears.
The Pitt Panthers were battered, bloodied and, most important, badly beaten by Wichita State, 73-55, Thursday in an NCAA West Region second-round game at EnergySolutions Arena.
Then there was Tray Woodall.
The fifth-year senior guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., the heart and soul of this team that overachieved all season only to fall apart in the postseason, broke down before cameras at the post-game podium and buried his head into his right arm.
“It's a bitter taste in my mouth to end my career with one of the worst games I've ever played,” Woodall said. “I'm sorry I let my team down. One of the worst games I've ever played.”
Those words, and this performance, will haunt Woodall. He admitted as much after shooting 1 for 12 overall, 0 for 5 from 3-point range, and fouling out with four minutes, five seconds remaining.
It was another disappointing exit for Pitt (24-9) from the NCAA tournament, another year that saw them lose to a lower seed. It marked the Panthers' first loss in their opening game since 2005 when they lost to Pacific, 79-71, in Boise, Idaho.
Woodall, their unquestioned leader, finished with two points, five rebounds, one assist and five turnovers in 30 minutes. This from the 6-foot point guard-turned-shooting guard who led them in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point percentage this season and who finished his career as one of seven players in school history with 1,000 points (1,108) and 500 assists (580).
One of the worst games he's ever played.
“It was real tough,” Woodall said of his long walk to the bench after drawing his fifth foul. “After missing those shots, it kind of frustrated me, and that's when I started to getting some of those ticky-tack fouls. Fouling out was actually a reflection of how bad I played.”
Woodall was a reflection of how poorly the Panthers played. They came here with a chip on their shoulder, as a surprising No. 8 seed when they were projected as high as fifth or sixth. Then the team that finished fourth in the Big East got bullied by the No. 9 Shockers (27-8), who finished second in the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference.
Pitt scored 21 first-half points, its second-lowest of the season, and after 10 ties and six lead changes, let Wichita State use a 7-0 run to take a five-point halftime lead. It only got worse from there.
Like Woodall, the Panthers looked listless and played lackadaisical. They launched 3-pointers instead of going inside to 7-footer Steven Adams, taking what they were given instead of forcing their hand.
Pitt shot 35.2 percent from the field (19 of 54), including 1 of 17 on 3s. The Panthers continued to take deep shots, even as Wichita State shot 30.4 percent (7 of 23) in the first half, missing all seven 3s.
Shockers senior guard Malcolm Armstead had the game Woodall was wishing for, scoring a game-high 22 points with three rebounds, five assists, one steal and one turnover.
The Panthers looked to Woodall, but he couldn't deliver the way he did three years ago, when he torched Wichita State for 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. He had to fight through the airtight defense of 6-foot-2, 202-pound Tekele Cotton, who had five steals, only to shoot airballs on a pair of 3-point attempts and to miss three layups.
“I knew for sure once No. 32 started guarding me that their coaches didn't forget about my freshman year,” Woodall said. “They made me work for every single shot that I got, everything. You've got to commend him. I'm mad that I don't know his first and last name and date of birth, the way he was on me. That's tough.”
The Panthers were quick to point out that Woodall wasn't alone in his struggles. Only Adams, the freshman from New Zealand, performed admirably. He was 5 of 7 from the floor for 13 points and 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Patterson, Robinson and Talib Zanna combined to shoot 4 for 18.
“It's hard to see our leader feel that way,” Robinson, Pitt's freshman point guard, said of Woodall. “He meant so much to me individually and to us as a team this whole season. …
“We're a team, really. We love Tray and what he brings to us, but there were still nine other guys out there fighting, and none of us got the job done. It wasn't anything Tray did or didn't do.”
As those words were spoken, Woodall sat across the room with a towel draped over his head. He wouldn't have heard them, anyway. Woodall was waiting to wake up from his personal nightmare, one of the worst games he's ever played.
“It's real hard to believe,” Woodall said. “To end my career with a game like this, it's real tough. I'm probably going to have this taste in my mouth for the rest of my life.”