Pitt won a basketball game it couldn’t afford to lose on Tuesday night, 71-65, over Boston College before an announced crowd of 9,142 at Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers, who improved to 19-10 and 8-7 in the ACC with their sixth victory in eight games, need to win their final four regular-season games to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Boston College was the first step. The Panthers conclude the regular season with games against Wake Forest, Miami and Florida State.
“We want to make (the tournament), but we’ve got to win games to make it so we just worry about the next game,” said sophomore Michael Young who scored 22 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Young and fellow sophomore Jamel Artis (22 points, eight rebounds) combined for 46 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Panthers.
Hard-luck Boston College proved to be a surprisingly difficult opponent, despite featuring the worst record in conference play.
The Eagles, led by junior Olivier Hanlan’s game-high 39 points, lost their ninth consecutive game. But they didn’t go down without a fight.
Boston College (9-18, 1-14) rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit and scored 15 consecutive points to make it 35-35 early in the second half.
“Obviously, Hanlan had it going on the whole game,” Young said. “Regardless of what defense you threw at him, he was going hard every play. He made some tough shots.”
Hanlan shot 10 for 20 from the field and 14 for 14 from the foul line in a game-high 38 minutes. It was the most points scored by an opposing player against Pitt this season.
Pitt was forced to hold on and never put the game out of reach as Artis dunked to make it 65-56 with 2:54 to play.
Pitt senior Aron Phillips-Nwankwo returned after missing seven games with a torn labrum. Nwankwo played five minutes in the first half.
The Panthers seemingly put the game out of reach at 35-20, but the visitors went on a 10-0 run to pull within 35-30 at intermission.
It was another case of the Panthers failing to put an opponent away after building a large lead.
Boston College entered Tuesday with one conference win, and the Eagles looked to be on the brink of another defeat late in the first half. However, a scoring burst over the final 2:25, led by Hanlan, made for a close game.
Artis led the Panthers with 10 first-half points. Hanlan led all players with 21 first-half points.
Pitt opened the second half the same way it ended the first. The Panthers were outscored 5-0 as Boston College pulled into a 35-35 tie.
Young and Cameron Wright hit consecutive baskets and Pitt led, 39-35.
However, Pitt’s defense couldn’t stop Hanlan, who continually drove to the basket or freed himself for open jumpers. Hanlan’s two free throws made it 39-37.
Artis hit two free throws for a 41-37 lead, but Garland Owens soared above everyone for a tip-in to keep Boston College within two points.
The Panthers started to pull away when Young hit 1 of 2 free throws and Artis made a layup for a 44-39 lead. But it was short-lived.
Pitt’s defense finally forced a missed Hanlan jumper. However, the Panthers committed a turnover and put Hanlan back on the line. Hanlan’s two free throws made it 44-41 with 11:48 remaining.
Sophomore Sheldon Jeter drove inside for a layup and competed a three-point play for a 47-41 lead. But Chris Jones missed two free throws that would have given Pitt an eight-point advantage.
Hanlan’s 3-pointer made it 47-44, but Young’s three-point play gave the Panthers a 50-44 lead. Artis nailed a jumper and Young scored inside to extend the lead to 54-47.
Again, Boston College clawed back as Dimitri Batten’s layup made it 55-51.
Boston College’s misfortune was Pitt’s good luck when Hanlan went to the bench with his fourth foul.
The Panthers got the ball inside to Young, whose two free throws made it 57-51.
But Hanlan, who re-entered the game, drilled a 3-pointer to make it 57-54. The Panthers caught a break when Aaron Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Jeter’s basket and Artis’ two free throw gave Pitt a 61-54 lead.