The emotions involved with winning and losing are often paired together in a similar cliché, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Pittsburgh’s 101-96 double overtime victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday night undoubtedly provided more relief than exuberance for the Pitt Panthers.
A loss may very well have sunk the Panthers already teetering NCAA Tournament chances. Despite a respectable 18-7 record, including a 7-6 mark in ACC Conference play, the Panthers have yet to beat a ranked opponent and lack a signature win. In the absence of key wins, it is even more crucial to avoid what could be perceived as a “bad loss”. The Panthers already bare one such blemish, an embarrassing 78-61 setback at home against a middling 13-13 N.C. State team. Another defeat to last place Wake Forest at home would have been devastating for Pitt.
That dreaded outcome was distinctly in play as the Panthers trailed Wake Forest 68-63 with only 3:15 remaining in the game. Pitt fought back to tie the game up at 69-apiece, but with only 35 seconds left, the Demon Deacons’ Konstantinos Mitogluo nailed an enormous three-pointer. The shot put Wake Forest up 72-69 and was seemingly the final dagger before some late game heroics from Pitt senior James Robinson.
Down three with the ball, Pitt missed its first three-point look, but was able to maintain possession with a crucial offensive rebound, one of their 26 on the day. The Panthers looked flustered and out of sorts when the ball made its way back into the hands of James Robinson. Amidst the chaos, Robinson confidently launched a difficult step back three from the right wing and canned. 72-72, tie ball game. The timely bucket and ensuing Pitt defensive stop forced overtime.
The tying shot provided another five minute period and new life for the Panthers, though the games theatrics and Robinson’s clutch play were far from done. A three-point basket made by Cornelius Hudson gave Wake Forest an 82-81 lead with 1:03 left in overtime.
Still anybody’s game, both teams seemed content to squander away opportunities to seize control. Pitt’s next possession ended in a Jamel Artis turnover. Wake Forest’s Cornelius Hudson and Pitt’s Ryan Luther both proceeded to miss a pair of free throws.
With the lead and the ball Wake Forest was in prime position to seal the deal and earn their first ACC road win in two years. In desperation mode the Panthers applied a full court press when Robinson came through once again. Denying the entry pass, Robinson made a dramatic one-handed steal and was fouled while protecting the ball. Robinson missed his first attempt before calmly knocking down the second, good for an 82-82 tie and double overtime.
In the second extra frame, James Robinson put on display even more will than skill. The diminutive 6-2 point guard hit the glass with purpose, securing the first five rebounds of the period for the Panthers. Robinson contributed seven points, two assists, and a steal to go along with five rebounds in the second overtime. His efforts culminating in a near triple double for the game, totaling 22 points 10 rebounds and 9 assists, helped the Panthers securing a much needed 101-96 victory.
“I thought he was terrific.” Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon lauded. “I talked to him today about getting assists and getting other guys shots and getting guys involved. I thought he did a great job especially down the stretch, when we needed the big shots, the big plays”.
Following a rough performance in Pitt’s last outing against UNC, Robinson showed his true worth Tuesday night. Though the triumph symbolized more reprieve than reason for celebration, a win is a win. Thanks to Robinson’s stellar play the Panthers avoided a disastrous loss and live to fight another day.