GREENSBORO, N.C. – Pitt rolled in its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game and beat one of the league’s marquee programs in its second. The Panthers just couldn’t quite rally to beat the top-seeded team and reach the championship game.
The Panthers lost 51-48 to No. 6 Virginia in Saturday’s semifinals, shooting just 37 percent as they tried to reach a league tournament final since last winning the Big East crown in 2008.
“I’m proud of how our guys played,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We got better this week. We’re healthy and playing our best basketball.”
The Panthers nearly rallied from eight down in the final 10 minutes, closing to within a single point on James Robinson’s steal and layup, which came through contact from Akil Mitchell but drew no whistle, with 10 seconds left. Pitt also missed two three-pointers in the final 2 minutes for the tie, the last coming when Justin Anderson blocked Robinson’s attempt with 4 seconds left to all but seal it.
Afterward, Dixon thought there should’ve been a foul on Robinson’s late layup.
“What can you do?” Dixon said. “We just watched it. Everybody saw it. I can’t comment on anything else besides that. I can’t state the obvious.”
Mitchell said he was surprised there was no whistle.
“I wanted to contest it as best as I could,” he said. “I definitely didn’t want to foul. But, you know, they let it go.”
Pitt opened the tournament with a 29-point romp against Wake Forest in Thursday’s first round then beat No. 15 North Carolina in Friday’s quarterfinals. Pitt lasted the longest of the three new league members, with Notre Dame losing the tournament’s first-round opener Wednesday and North Carolina State upsetting No. 11 Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
For Virginia, Anthony Gill hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left after Robinson’s layup to help the Cavaliers hang on. Gill was shooting 63 percent from the line for the Cavaliers (27-6) coming into the game.
Joe Harris scored 12 points to lead the Cavaliers, who shot 47 percent against the fifth-seeded Panthers (25-9) to earn their first trip to the final since 1994.
“Neither team really made that many mistakes,” Robinson said. “Every mistake that we did make, they capitalized on.”
The Cavaliers earned their first outright regular-season title since 1981 and only their second No. 1 seed. This was their first semifinal appearance since 1995, and they’re now a win from their second tournament title – the other coming in 1976.
Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna each scored 15 points to lead Pitt.
The teams met only once this year, and Malcom Brogdon hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in a 48-45 road win on Feb. 2. This one came down to another tight finish, though the Cavaliers kept the Panthers at arm’s distance for most of the final minutes and maintained a fragile hold on the game.
After trailing by eight, Pitt closed to within 47-44 and got a good look for the tie on Josh Newkirk’s 3-point attempt with 1:45 left, but never could level the game.
Virginia led 26-24 at the break and used a strong shooting start to the second half to finally build a working margin. The Cavaliers took their biggest lead on Gill’s hook shot to make it 45-37 with 9:30 left.
But the Cavaliers suddenly went cold, going 6 minutes without a point while the Panthers started inching back into the game.