LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a big road game that Pitt needed to win to improve its postseason chances, the Panthers rallied in the second half and appeared poised to pull off an upset. However, No. 9 Louisville staged an even bigger rally and won going away, 69-56 on Wednesday night at KFC Yum! Center.
For the Panthers, who shot poorly early and trailed at halftime only to take the lead, the final minutes of play became a cruel turnaround.
Improved defensive play resulted in several fast-break chances for the Panthers (16-9, 5-6 ACC), who increased their shooting percentage as well as their confidence.
But the same offensive mistakes and defensive lapses that sent the Panthers to an early first-half deficit resurfaced when Pitt attempted to put the game away.
Ahead 45-39 with 12:05 remaining, the Panthers were outscored 22-2 and trailed the rest of the way. At one point, the Panthers, who opened the second half making 10 of 12 shots, missed 12 consecutive shots.
“I wouldn’t say we ran out of gas,” said sophomore Michael Young, who led Pitt with 16 points. “We had the lead, and we let them take the game from us. We didn’t respond from that point on.”
Pitt shot only 37.7 percent to finish under 50 percent for the first time in four games. Meanwhile, the Panthers allowed Louisville to become their fourth consecutive opponent to shoot 50 percent or better. The Cardinals shot 50 percent.
Junior Montrezl Harrell, who dominated both ends of the court with 28 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks — all game highs — led Louisville (20-4, 8-3).
“When it started getting tough, we kind of like shied away,” said sophomore Sheldon Jeter, who said Harrell’s play intimidated the Panthers. “Something my dad always told me. The way you lose a fight is to stop throwing punches. Tonight we stopped throwing punches.”
For Pitt, which hosts No. 12 North Carolina on Saturday and travels to No. 2 Virginia on Monday, their quest for a NCAA Tournament berth only gets tougher.
“Extremely disappointing,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was a game of runs. Certainly, they had the run at the end that put us away.”
Pitt wore black uniforms for the second game in a row. With Cameron Wright sidelined because of a sprained ankle, Jeter made his first start.
Trailing 15-8, the Panthers answered.
Young scored five consecutive points, James Robinson made 1 of 2 free throws and Artis (15 points) hit a jumper. The 9-2 run drew the Panthers even at 17-17.
But the Panthers had trouble sustaining their good play. Harrell scored six consecutive points and Pitt trailed 27-21.
Given an opportunity to pull within two points, Robinson and Artis combined to miss 3 of 4 free throws and the Panthers trailed 27-22 at halftime.