I've returned to the Petersen Events Centre where the nationally ranked Pitt Panthers are hosting another guarantee game. The last time I was here in January '08, the Lafayette Leopards were the designated victims and despite the mismatch were able to ride a first have shooting spree of 61% from beyond the arc to a 41-39 halftime lead. An expected 95-76 Panthers' win followed the early game shooting frenzy. Now as then the visitors, tonight it's the Rider University Broncos, will be tested by a team above the Red Line that expects the same result......or not?
This evening my buddy Jack and I are sitting dead centre court, about 12 rows up from the floor. Sweet!! The lower bowl of the arena across from us is populated by Pitt students and they stand and bounce in place rhythmically all the while the ball is in the Broncos' possession. Twenty-four seconds in, Pitt's Tray Woodall drills a three from the deep corner and when Rider brings the ball back up-court the Broncos' Novar Gadson is blocked by the Panthers' Lamar Patterson. Things are proceeding just as would be expected ......or are they?
Pittsburgh's record at the Petersen Event Centre is 150-12 and they carry the initial play of the contest as if they expect number 151. Rider coach Tommy Dempsey takes time at 16:12 with Pittsburgh up 17-5. It's a classic match-up as Rider plays zone defense and Pitt counters with a man. It's Big East power against MAAC determination. The action continues to go Pittsburgh's way with the score mounting to 30-20. The stars seem to be aligned for the Panthers once again until the 6:47 mark of the period. Rider regains its composure after some errant passes and misguided shots. The score is 32-29.
The Broncos stave of the rout and the game becomes a contest of exchanged baskets. Pitt cannot shake the challengers from the Other 25. As the half draws near Gadson steps out of the shadow cast on him by Patterson's early game block to hit a trey to bring Rider within three, 45-42. After a missed shot by Pitt's senior star Ashton Gibbs, Rider finds itself with the ball and time enough for one last shot. With no time out and no movement from the Broncos' offense Jeff Jones lets fly with a long three- pointer from out in front of the circle and hits for the tie. The Pitt crystal ball looks a bit murky as the teams retire from the court and leave the spotlight for a ceremony recognizing past Panther legends.
The game turns into a coaches duel. As the second half gets underway time outs come fast and furious. The first media stoppage of the half finds Pitt up by two, but by 13:27 Panthers coach Jamie Dixon has to call time with Rider up 56-52. And again at 11:29, Rider leading by six. Coach Dempsey's Broncos are finding the open man now and the Panthers are cold from the outside. Coach Dixon is beside himself on the sideline. Watching the miscues and missed shots, he buries his ahead in his hands. He uses the time outs to set plays and gets positive results with each possession as his team responds and ties the game at 65.
The momentary break in the Petersen Event Centre cosmos has been repaired. The Panthers are back and the score reflects their stepped up efforts on defense. With five minutes to play Rider had been ahead 73-70, but a seven point run puts the home team in its customary position with precious little time remaining. If there is an RLU in the stars tonight, the hope is finally quashed when Pitt's Dante Taylor blocks a sure two point goal by Daniel Stewart. Pittsburgh outscores Rider 9-5 the rest of the way to pad its home record with one more 'W'.
The 86-78 final score doesn't reflect the actual course of the game. Rider did manage to raise a magnifying glass over Red Line and offer a closer examination of a top ranked team, but a victory would have been better all the same.
at PITTSBURGH 86, RIDER 78 11/13/2011
RIDER 0-2 (0-0) -- J. Jones 4-11 4-4 15; D. Stewart 9-12 0-0 18; N. Gadson 7-13 2-3 17; B. Penn 3-8 0-0 8; A. Myles 7-10 2-2 20; E. Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0; C. Oliver 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-56 8-9 78. PITTSBURGH 2-0 (0-0) -- A. Gibbs 7-15 4-4 24; T. Woodall 6-13 1-2 17; N. Robinson 9-10 4-4 22; D. Taylor 4-8 0-1 8; L. Patterson 1-4 1-2 4; T. Zanna 1-2 0-2 2; C. Wright 0-2 1-2 1; J. Moore 1-4 1-2 3; J. Johnson 1-2 0-0 3; K. Birch 1-2 0-2 2. Totals 31-62 12-21 86.
Three-point goals: RID 10-23 (J. Jones 3-8; B. Penn 2-7; N. Gadson 1-2; A. Myles 4-5; E. Mitchell 0-1), PITT 12-34 (A. Gibbs 6-14; L. Patterson 1-4; T. Woodall 4-10; J. Moore 0-3; C. Wright 0-1; J. Johnson 1-2); Rebounds: RID 16 (D. Stewart 5), PITT 40 (L. Patterson 8); Assists: RID 18 (E. Mitchell 5), PITT 22 (T. Woodall 10); Total Fouls -- RID 17, PITT 14; Fouled Out: RID-A. Myles; PITT-None.