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Pitt falters late in 67-60 loss to No. 11 Louisville

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No. 11 Louisville made their final nine field goal attempts as the Cardinals pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Pitt 65-58

PITTSBURGH - Ryan Luther led Pitt with 17 points off the bench in the loss.

Despite not being eligible for the NCAA Tournament, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals now find themselves only a half-game behind North Carolina for the ACC lead.

“Well I’ve coached 41 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a basketball team,” Pitino said. “You would think we were favorites to win the national championship the way we’re practicing.”

Louisville had struggled on the road of late, losing their last two contests at Duke and Notre Dame.

The Cardinals’ offense is no secret, as their guards are quick enough to get to the rim and create opportunities for their big men. But Louisville ranked 263rd in the nation in 3-pointers made, and 305th in triples attempted entering this matchup.

Pitino’s team fit the profile perfectly in the first half, scoring 22 points in the paint while making only one of their nine attempts from behind the arc. Damion Lee, averaging over 16 points per game, was held to one field goal and four points.

Considering they outrebounded and shot 13 more free throws than their opponent, Pitt must’ve been stunned to find themselves down at the break. But a poorly managed end of the half, including five minutes without a field goal, led to a four point deficit.

For the Panthers, the half was eerily similar to their home tilt against Virginia on February 6th, in which they outplayed the then 9th ranked Cavaliers much of the first half, but still found themselves losing by two at the break. They ended up losing by 14.

“We’ve had opportunities against really good teams,” Dixon said. “Close isn’t good enough…at some point you have to win one.”

Luther proved to be Pitt’s best scoring threat off the bench. The Pittsburgh native brought the crowd to their feet, helping the Panthers push their lead to eight with just as many minutes remaining.

The 11th ranked Cardinals would not go away quietly, and quickly responded with an 8-0 run once Luther went to the bench at the under-8 timeout.

“We had an eight point lead, didn’t take an open shot, and then gave up a three on the other end,” Dixon said. “We needed to finish it off.”

Louisville shot six of eight from the 2-point line after making only one of their nine attempts in the first. Lee contributed two of those, and finished with 13 points despite his first half struggles.

Comparatively, Pitt made only 4-18 from behind the arc for the game.

Michael Young had a quiet first half, but woke up late in the second, getting to the rim for an easy dunk and a layup.

Young’s play wasn’t be enough, as Louisville’s defense clamped down late. Chinanu Onuaku posterized the junior on a defensive breakdown with just over a minute left. The dunk was emphatic and well deserved, as the Cardinals ball movement was excellent late in the game.

“It’s going to be tough tonight, but we have to put it behind us,” Luther said. “We’ve got three games left.”

The loss voids Pitt’s chance at yet another signature win on their home floor, and they move to 0-6 against the AP Top 25.

“I do look at Pitt as an NCAA Tournament team,” Pitino said. “Obviously, they’re going to have to start winning some of these (marquee) games.”

They’ll get another chance on Sunday as they host Duke. Their tournament hopes may hang in the balance.

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