With an 89-86 overtime victory, the Pitt Panthers snapped a 23-game ACC regular season losing streak and a 12-game losing streak to Louisville in the same night.
That the game made it to overtime was a minor miracle for U of L. The Cards trailed by double figures for the bulk of the second half before ending regulation on a 14-2 run to force the extra period.
A Ryan McMahon three-pointer to open OT gave Louisville its first advantage since the 12-minute mark of the first half. Pitt answered with a matching three on the other end, and the teams traded baskets twice more before the Panthers pulled ahead for good. U of L ended the game with five consecutive misses from beyond the arc, the final three each attempting to tie the score and force a second overtime.
A victory would have felt like some degree of robbery for Louisville, which turned the ball over 18 times and allowed Pitt’s young guard to blow by them with ease all night long. The poor Cardinal defense was partially bailed out by the Panthers’ atrocious free-throw shooting (16-for-33).
Christen Cunningham almost single-handedly kept U of L in the game during the second half. The Samford grad transfer was 9-for-11 from the field, scored a team-high 23 points and also dished out a team-high five assists. Dwayne Sutton produced a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Steven Enoch came off the bench for the first time all season to produce his best effort in several weeks, 14 points and seven boards.
It was a night to forget for Jordan Nwora, who shot just 2-for-14 from the field, 1-for-7 from three, and was held to his lowest scoring output of the season with just eight points. As a team, the Cardinals were just 7-for-28 from beyond the arc.
On the other side, Pitt’s Trey McGowens set a new school freshman scoring record by torching U of L for 33 points. Fellow freshman Xavier Johnson added 21 points of his own. The two first-year guards were a combined 6-of-11 from three and 10-of-17 from the field.
Even if Louisville had been able to pull this thing out in overtime, it’s painfully clear that this team is going to have improve significantly on the defensive end if it wants to be .500 or better in the ACC. Nobody was helping when they were supposed to help, nobody was challenging at the time, and if you didn’t know any better, you would have thought this was the first time these guys had ever been asked to defend a simple high ball screen. That’s especially concerning when the team next up on the schedule is the second best offensive team in the conference, one which went into that same Petersen Events Center and waxed that same Pitt team, 85-60 less than a week ago.
It wasn’t all bad. CC was once again unflappable, and the lone stabilizing force on the floor when the waters got choppy. Dwayne Sutton also made a clutch play to force overtime that deserves mention. Enoch played his best game in over a month, and should have gotten more touches during the first few minutes of overtime. The team was 17-for-23 from the charity stripe, and when Chris Mack called for them to play zone, they played it more effectively than they had in the brief moments where we’d seen it previously.
Still, the bad outweighed the good — namely, the fact that zone had to be employed as a desperation measure against this Pitt team in the first place.
All is not lost, and most of us probably expected that the first “bad” loss of the Mack era would have come earlier than Jan. 9. That’s still little consolation right now for a team whose margin for error when it comes to making the NCAA tournament just got slimmer.
Here’s your final box score: