Apologies for the less-than-timely update on last night's loss.....back to back late nights with work sandwiched in between can get in the way of blogging (sadly).
Anyway, Pitt finally broke through and topped Marquette this season with a 89-79 win in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. With the loss, MU falls to 24-9 on the season and now looks to Selection Sunday. According to the Bracket Project figures, MU could be slotted as a dreaded 5 seed. Gimme a 6, please, gimme a 6!
Back to the game. Aaron Gray dominated the lane last night ending up with 22 points and 10 boards (six on the offensive end). Honestly it felt like he scored 40 points last night-- MU had no answer for the assertive Pitt center.
Pitt's efficient offense extended beyond Gray's big night -- I'd love to see the shot chart for the Panthers. I'd guess that in the first half, 70%-80% of the Panthers points came from inside the lane (or at least from within 12 feet of the basket). Things didn't seem to change much in the second half as the Panthers displayed new-found aggressiveness in attacking the basket with just about every player on the floor. For the game, Pitt shot nearly 50% from the field -- and seemed to do just about anything they wanted to do offensively.
Despite the Panthers' effectiveness on offense, MU was able to stay within striking distance for most of the night. With the Panthers overplaying every James drive, MU's offensive rhythm was choppy at best but Dan Fitzgerald's hot hand, Lazar Hayward's soft touch, and Ousmane Barro's ability to finish kept the Golden Eagles in the mix for most of the night.
Everything was labored on offense for MU. With only one player who can drive and dish, Pitt overplayed James in the lane realizing that for any kick-out ,MU had no player who could take advantage of an opening and create a scoring opportunity off the dribble. Pitt was able to rotate and recover defensively on any James move to the basket. Save a few nice layups by Barro on DJ passes or a handful of curls from Hayward, Matthews and Fitz the Golden Eagles were unable to get the Panthers' defense on its heels. In short, MU missed McNeal a ton tonight on both ends of the floor.
MU was led by the sublime play of Dan Fitzgerald who had 20 points and four rebounds. Fitz is positively dialed in from deep, hitting 50% of his attempts from downtown (4-8). With McNeal sidelined, Fitz has clearly stepped up his game. Impressive.
James recovered from Wednesday night's lousy shooting performance to score 16 points on 5-for-12 from the floor, including 2-8 from deep. Still, in two Big East Tournament games, DJ was a disappointing 2-17 from three-point territory.
A few other Big East Tournament observations:
- Pitt fans travel VERY WELL to MSG -- nice job by their fan base. I was proud of the MU contingent last night though -- the atmosphere at MSG was fantastic despite the long wait for the opening tip. While that WVU/Louisville game was an instant classic - it needed to end so that we could get to the main event.
- Pitt fans....handled themselves well last night. In general, most Big East fan bases are respectful and smart. With one notable exception which I'll get to.
- Cubillan is a nice player -- but he's not a PG. Still, MU has lacked an effective combo guard in past seasons......Cuby is a keeper.
- Lazar Hayward's improvement since I last saw him in-person back in January is remarkable. The kid must be a very hard worker in practice.
- First Novak, now Fitzgerald. If you were a big man with a terrific outside shot -- why go anywhere else?
- James. Look, he's in a shooting slump but I think that his shot selection in the pair of games out here was pretty good. Absent McNeal, the game is much more difficult for DJ -- nobody else on the team can get to the rim off the dribble. He played another good floor game last night, particularly when he was able to find an open man in the lane.
- Notre Dame fans are a$$holes. At least the three turds in my section. The classy Cuse fans in our section took so much abuse from a couple of Domer hoops 'diehards' -- what a joke. Act like you've been there before. Good luck to the 'Cuse next weekend.
- Wesley Matthews is darn near a defensive liability. Heck, he is when the offensive player can put the ball on the floor -- something that surprised me here at MSG.
- The Ville/WVU game was awesome.
- MU Alumni Office and Blue and Gold Fund -- nice job this week!
- MU fans -- we need more of you out here in NYC for this event. Keep it in mind for next year.
- As noted in one of the comments below, folks in the crowd generally like Marquette. I noticed this last year too -- the atmosphere at MSG is positive. And its a great place to see a game.
- Here's a good thread on the loss and what it might mean. Good job by MUScoop.
- Rosiak's recap -- focused on Aaron Gray's big night.
- Chicago Sun Times.
- Associated Press.
- box score.
- PittBlather's recap. (thanks for the outlink/kudos, Chas)
- PittBlather's open thread from the game.
- Pittsbugh Tribune-Review.
- Ken Pomeroy on the performance of fatigued teams.