SOMETIMES, SLOW AND STEADY wins the race. This was not one of those occasions. In a slow-going, low-scoring affair, the Cougars were unable to clinch a win in the championship series of the CBI tournament, falling to Pitt 57-53 and forcing a third game Friday night in Steel City.
Freshman guard DaVonté Lacy summed it up succinctly in a postgame radio interview: “They capitalized on some things we didn’t; they converted on some things we didn’t; and they just played better than us tonight.”
Lacy, who tallied nine points and a career-high seven rebounds, opened scoring on a promising note – a 3-pointer with an assist by senior wing Marcus Capers, who amassed six points and four assists.
But the Panthers, clearly wanting the Cougars to know that they meant business, responded immediately with a jumper by Dante Taylor.
Lacy said they weren’t surprised that Pitt came out swinging since the Cougars won the first game of the best-of-three series, 67-66, on Monday in Pullman.
“If we won, we were going to win the championship, but they didn’t want to lose,” he said. “We expected them to come out and play physical – and that’s what they came out and did.”
Tied 9-9, the Panthers went on a 10-0 run midway through the half with 3-pointers by J.J. Moore and John Johnson and an uncontested dunk by Talib Zanna. Their lead increased to 11 with 46 seconds left as Nasir Robinson connected on a 3-pointer.
Bone credited the opposition’s defense for his team only putting up 20 points in the first half – the least amount allowed by Pitt all season.
THE COUGARS SHOT 43.6 percent from the floor, and 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
“They were very quick, active and getting through screens,” he said. “We had a hard time getting looks at the basket.”
Still, the Cougars held Pitt to just 29 points in the opening half.
“I thought our defense was good at the end of the first half,” Bone said, “and pretty darn good in the second half.”
Lacy said that Bone challenged him before the game to get rebounds, so “I made it my business to get down there and get rebounds – and I think I did a good job.”
Bone acknowledged that his team didn’t really get rolling until the end of the first half.
“We had a couple of good looks, but we needed Abe Lodwick and Patrick Simon to make a couple shots to spread their defense out,” he said. “That’s why we had them out there at the very end of the first half, and we actually got something at the rim.”
BUT SOMETHING LOOKED like it was headed for nothing as the second half got underway and Pitt benefited from four team fouls in just under three minutes of play.
“They got to the free-throw line over and over and over again, and that was frustrating,” Bone said. “But in terms of getting stops, we did a nice job.”
The Panthers continued to put up points, at one point leading 42-32 on the heels of a missed 3-pointer by junior wing Mike Ladd.
Enter Reggie Moore.
Moore, who scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, kept the Cougars in the game despite missing several jumpers. Also helping was a seven-minute span in which Pitt didn’t make a basket.
“Reggie did a good job of attacking the rim, getting to the free-throw line,” Bone said. “(He) was the guy who was producing points, so we tried to go to him and give him the freedom to create plays.”
Moore did just that with 1:41 left, tying the score 49-all on a pair of free throws.
But Lamar Patterson responded with a quick jumper, sending Pitt on a 6-0 run and keeping the Cougars at bay. Patterson scored six of his 12 points in the final 90 seconds of the game.
“It’s been two well played games by two teams who are just trying to win this championship,” Bone said. “Now it’s down to one game to go – on their court – but I’m looking forward to Friday night, and I think we can get the job done.”
The Cougars played without junior center Brock Motum, who injured his foot against Oregon State last week.
Pitt was without star senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who missed his first game of the season with an injured right ankle sustained in the opening round of the series Monday in Pullman.