Pitt beats Washington State to claim CBI Championship
If I told you on Nov. 27 that the Pittsburgh Panthers would be the champions of a tournament in late March, would you believe me?
As it is, Pitt (22-17) triumphed over injuries, adversity and a sub-par Big East season, and corralled the 2012 CBI Championship, when it defeated Washington State 71-65 at Petersen Events Center Friday night.
The Panthers, who defeated Wofford, Princeton and Butler to reach the finals, defeated Washington State (19-18) in a best-of-3 by winning the final two games.
“We tried our best and we kept working,” said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon after the game. “I’m proud of them for that; and proud of them for continuing to play no matter what.”
The relentless Panthers committed just three turnovers – the fewest in the Dixon-era.
“They did a great job of taking care of the ball,” said Washington State head Coach Ken Bone. “It was one of those games, at least early on, where we tried to sit back and protect the paint. We weren’t really pressuring and denying until the last three minutes when we did some trapping. Regardless Pitt did a great job taking care of the ball.”
Thanks to the sharp-shooting back-court, led by Tray Woodall (17 points), Pitt knocked down half of their shots on the night, going 24 of 48.
Woodall, on top of leading the Panthers in scoring, rattled off 7 assists with no turnovers in 36 minutes of play.
“We went through a lot of ups-and-downs in our season, but we just wanted to end on a high note,” said Woodall. “We knew the mistakes that we made this year, and we have more experience know with the guys that played. This was good preparation.”
Preparation was a key word for the Panthers who played 10 players, with 8 of them receiving 13 or more minutes. Even seldom-used senior Nick Rivers received 4 minutes on the night.
“It meant a lot. All of the work I put into it, I never gave up,” said Rivers about getting playing time. “It felt good to let these guys know that I can contribute.”
With the minutes being spread around, five Panthers still scored in double-figures, including 14 from Lamar Patterson, 12 from Talib Zanna and 11 from J.J. Moore.
Patterson, who won the tournament Most Valuable Player award, went 4 of 9 from the field, and added 5 assists with just one turnover, as well as a team-best 8 rebounds.
“I felt like coach trusted me a lot, and he depended on me a lot more,” said Patterson. “It’s good knowing that he has that confidence in me going into next year.”
“He’s like a Brad Wanamaker-type that instills confidence in the rest of his teammates,” said Woodall of Patterson. “The rest of the team knows that he’ll make the right play, and hit the guys when they’re open. And Coach Dixon knows that he can call sets for him, and knows that he’ll be the right guy.”
With 4:37 left in the game, Patterson’s dribble-drive layup with a foul attached become the breaking away point for Pitt from the Cougars. The play advanced the Panthers lead to 10.
While the offense was prime, it was the Panthers defense that truly sealed the deal, keeping Washington State to just 4 field goals—all 2-pointers—in the final 4:37 of play.
“Pitt did a really good job of guarding our sets,” WSU’s Bone said. “We use off-ball screens a lot on offense, and they did a good job of stopping that.”
Cougars guard Reggie Moore led all scorers with 18 points, but the big man-tandem of Abe Lodwick and Charlie Enquist was held to a combined 12 points on just 4 field goals and 8 rebounds.
Patterson finished with an average of just under 15 points per game, and over 50 percent from the field in the six-game tournament. He punched in a career-high 19 points in the Panthers 2nd round win over Princeton, and finished in double-figures in 5 of 6 games.
“He did a great job for them tonight,” said Bone. “He’s a tough guy to defend, and somebody like him will only get better.”
Speaking the truth
Travon Woodall broke it down for the media about the reality of winning the CBI championship Friday night.
“To be completely honest, when I first heard about this tournament, I thought of it as a lose-lose situation,” the junior guard said. “Obviously we’re Pitt and we’re not supposed to be in a tournament like this, and we’re supposed to beat the teams, whatever the case may be. But we looked at is as we want to get better. We got a lot of guys that didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, and this season it wasn’t a great season. We just wanted to finish on a high-note, get those guys experience and just keep working.”
For the seniors
Dixon talked about the hardships and trouble with injuries that plagued seniors Ashton Gibbs (who did not play due to a right ankle injury) and Nasir Robinson (knee)
“No two seniors have been through more injuries in their senior years,” Dixon said. “Nasir, they said he might have a torn meniscus on the other knee. He just kept battling and he never complained and he kept playing. They both did. At times we thought we should have kept Ashton out, but he wanted to keep going. Both of them kept battling, they kept trying. Fact of the matter was neither one of them were ever healthy.”
The 2011-12 senior class of Gibbs and Robinson accounted for 106 wins and just 40 losses in their playing careers.
He said what?
When asked why Isaiah Epps received no minutes, on top of Nick Rivers receiving 4 minutes, Jamie Dixon reasoned.
“Nick we felt was a better defender. We played him a couple of times this season. I thought he played good. He gave us good minutes, and at times, he is one of our better perimeter defenders.”
Epps has been said to be considering transferring from Pitt in the off-season.
Close the books
The Panthers, who have played the longest through March than any other Pitt team before them, closes the books on the 2011-12 season with the CBI championship title. They will return next season with three starters, and four other plauers who have put in ample-work in the season.
“The kids wanted to do more this year. The competed they battled and we got a lot of good minutes out of these guys. Lamar, Cameron (Wright), Malcolm (Gilbert), John Johnson, they all got good minutes,” Dixon said. “We got some good things out of this, and it will carry over to the next season.”
Dixon continued on about getting better.
“We’re going to get to work on it, that’s for sure,” he said. “Our program still indicates one of the more winningest in the last 10 years, which goes to show the level that we’ve played at, even including this year. We will do everything we can. We’ve done it in the past, but we didn’t do it this year.”