Thursday, March 14, 2013
Pitt sent packing for Tobacco Road
By Dana O'Neil
NEW YORK -- There isn’t much time to reflect and contemplate the deep meaning of anything when you're a basketball coach.
There is always another opponent to beat, another recruit to woo.
And so as Jamie Dixon walked onto the Madison Square Garden floor for the last time as a member of the Big East Conference, he wasn’t teary-eyed or filled with nostalgia. He was worried about Syracuse.
And when it was over, when the Orange claimed the 62-59 victory to officially send the Panthers packing for the ACC, Dixon didn’t pause or take in the sights. He didn’t gaze into the darkness of the stands or even turn around. He walked over, shook Jim Boeheim's hand and kept going on to the next thing: the NCAA tournament.
"You don’t really have time to sit back, especially during it," Dixon said. "Maybe at some point afterwards."
At least as Pitt leaves Broadway for Tobacco Road, it can take comfort in the fact that it went out on its own terms: a typical bare-knuckle Big East brawl.
Pitt's last game in the Big East tournament was another physical brawl.
Brandon Triche and James Southerland both walked into the postgame interview room with ice bags on each knee; Dante Taylor got popped in the eye so badly during the game he was almost gushing blood onto his uniform; and there was one play where three guys lay sprawled underneath the hoop while Tray Woodall checked his eye for blood and Taylor held his knee.
At which point you had to wonder if ACC officials were watching in Greensboro, N.C., and wondering, "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
"I think that’s why this has been the best league and games like this typify that," Dixon said. "I’m really proud of how our guys kept battling. That shows something, too. In our league, teams get down and keep battling. That’s been pretty consistent throughout the league."
To that point, the Panthers came back from a 13-point halftime deficit and a 10-point second-half hole, with the ball and a chance to tie it with 28 seconds left.
Instead Michael Carter-Williams stepped in front of a pass from James Robinson, drove down the court and wisely held on to the ball, forcing the Panthers to foul him. The sophomore recently tabbed the most improved player in the conference showed the progression he has made this season.
The same guy who went 7-for-15 in this building against Temple in December drained the free throws, knocking down four in the final minute, to seal the victory.
"He’s worked hard at it," Boeheim said. "Sometimes you have to go through those bad experiences to be able to come back in this situation and be able to make them. And they were huge. I mean, I don’t think we win if he doesn’t go to the line and hit those free throws."
Pitt’s exodus doesn’t conjure up the same sort of sentiment that Syracuse’s will, whenever that comes. Still the Panthers have more than made their mark on the Big East.
Pitt advanced to the tournament title game in seven of the past 12 years and won the whole thing in both 2003 and 2008.
Dixon culled plenty of talent from New York, giving his team both local flavor and fan appreciation.
Mix in the Panthers’ style under him and his predecessor Ben Howland -- gritty, scrappy, occasionally ugly offensively and never apologetic -- and Pitt fit right in with the image of a league that once got so physical it went to six fouls.
"It’s sad we had to go out this way," Lamar Patterson said. "But I had fun playing in the Big East."
Fun, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and for Pittsburgh Big East fun was always a basketball game that looked like a street fight.