Starkey: Pitt's ugly win shows importance of Patterson
No, these past two games have not been pretty. If you're a Pitt fan, however, they should have you feeling plenty grateful.
They should have you thanking the basketball gods for Lamar Patterson.
That might seem like an odd notion after an injured Patterson shot 1-for-9 and hoisted airballs left and right Saturday in a disturbingly ugly 62-57 victory over Virginia Tech in double overtime.
But the game only underscored Patterson's critical importance to a thin Pitt team. You saw that Wednesday in Miami, when he took over late, and you saw it Saturday, when he simply could not because of an injured right thumb.
A compromised Patterson essentially turned Pitt into Virginia Tech. The Panthers without Patterson would not be an NCAA Tournament team. Then again, I'm not sure Duke with a thumbless Jabari Parker would be one, either. That's how it works with star players.
The other positive from this game was that it should serve as yet another reality check for the Mark Turgeons of the world — those who believed Pitt was being terribly disrespected in the polls all season.
Some of us didn't think Pitt was that good when it was 10-0 and 16-1, and we don't think it's that bad now that it has lost three more times and has barely escaped ACC bottom-feeders Miami and Virginia Tech in a span of four days.
Somewhere in-between seems right, and if in-between means 20-4 overall and 8-3 in the ACC, then the Panthers surely didn't deserve the Twitter hate that erupted after their victory — as in W-I-N — Saturday.
What is wrong with people?
Granted, Virginia Tech is bad. Really bad. It has yet to win a game in this calendar year. The Hokies had lost four in a row by a total of 84 points. But Pitt practically was playing 3-on-5 on account of Patterson and Talib Zanna battling injuries. Zanna's ankle injury has him at maybe 70 percent effectiveness.
That's not excuse-making. It's fact-stating. Pitt's two most-productive players are shells of themselves. Are we supposed to pretend that isn't true?
It also is a fact that losing Durand Johnson was a devastating blow. Johnson was just starting to roll — 28 points in his final 41 minutes on the court this season — when he was cut down by a torn ACL on Jan. 11 against Wake Forest. Pitt has yet to find its way since he left.
It's not that people should have thrown ticker tape after this one, especially not when Pitt was outrebounded, 43-28 (Michael Young had no rebounds in 27 minutes). But streams of vitriol didn't seem entirely appropriate, either.
A sampling of the comments from others that appeared on my Twitter feed:
• “Another Pitt team that peaks by Jan 15 & then steadily gets worse into Feb/March.”
• “I thought Pitt's win in Miami the other day was ugly ..... WOW”
• “my 11 year old's rec team scored 52 today. Just sayin.”
Remember: Winning always beats the alternative, especially with Pitt about to enter a key three-game stretch (Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State) that could have ruined their season if they'd lost these two games.
Patterson deserves some praise for gutting out 44 minutes. His only basket was a big one — the first of the second overtime. He also handed out a team-high five assists and couldn't have been a liability on defense, given that Virginia Tech shot 32 percent for the game and did not record a field goal in either overtime.
Patterson said he injured his right thumb in the Miami game. He wasn't sure when. It started hurting afterward. He barely practiced Friday.
“I was in a little bit of pain,” he said. “I don't want to make any excuse. I had open looks. It's just about being able to adjust a little.”
Patterson left the arena with his right hand heavily taped. If Pitt is going to have a chance Wednesday in the rematch against Syracuse, he'll have to do some quick healing.
His confidence won't be a problem.
“I'm real confident,” Patterson said. “We want another shot at 'em. We felt like we let one go up there.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Dixon's media briefing sounded like one reserved for the losing coach. Most of the questions, understandably, were of the what's-wrong variety.
Dixon was typically defiant when I wondered if the whole scene made it feel like a loss.
“Well, I mean, that's nothing new,” he said. “I think we've gone through that before. ... Sometimes winning is not enough.”
It would be more than enough come March, which is when this Pitt team should be judged.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.