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Thursday / February 22.
  • Butler Sends No. 1 Pitt Packing in Another Thriller

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    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pittsburgh hasn’t reached a Final Four since 1941 and now the Panthers must wait at least another year after losing a wild NCAA Tournament game that featured two foul calls in the final 2 seconds.

    “I take the blame,” junior forward Nasir Robinson said after No. 8 Butler stunned No. 1 Pitt, 71-70, in a third-round Southeast Regional game at the Verizon Center. “I take the blame for this loss. I made a dumb play. I apologize to my teammate and the fans.”

    With 1.4 seconds left and the Bulldogs ahead 70-69, Pitt’s Gilbert Brown made the first of two foul shots to tie the game at 70. But when he missed the second, official Antonio Petty called a foul on Robinson for going over Matt Howard’s back underneath the basket.

    The Butler forward made the first for a 71-70 lead, but missed the second on purpose, giving Butler its second wild victory in three days.

    The 6-8 Howard made a putback layup in the final seconds Thursday to give Butler a 60-58 victory over No. 9 Old Dominion.

    “It’s been the craziest weekend of my life,” said Howard, who finished with 16 points. “Win two games on game winners coming down to the last play of the game.”

    After reaching the NCAA championship game last year and falling to Duke, the Bulldogs (25-9) have now won 11 straight and remain alive for another run.

    They will face No. 4 Wisconsin Thursday in New Orleans. The Badgers downed Kansas State, 70-65, in Tucson.

    With Butler ahead 70-68 on an Andrew Smith layup, official Terry Wymer ruled Shelvin Mack fouled Brown as Brown attempted to gather the ball on a pass near the Pitt bench.

    Officials reviewed the time on the monitor and put 1.4 seconds on the clock.

    “I had probably the worst foul in Butler history,” said Mack, who finished with a game-high 30 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including 7 of 12 from beyond the arc.

    Mack smiled as he thanked “the dude from Pittsburgh” for bailing him out.

    Replays of both plays showed the foul calls were legitimate, though if the officials had held their whistle on the Robinson foul, the game likely would have gone to overtime without a rigorous debate.

    “We do it every day,” said John Higgins, the head official. “It just happened to be a crucial part of the game. You have to do what you have to do as an official.

    “If we get it wrong, we’re deadbeats and we’re all over SportsCenter,” he added. “We did what we think is correct.’’

    “I guess it’s gonna get a lot of talk…but we’re not going to blame the officials,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose team has made five Sweet 16 appearances in his tenure but has yet to reach the Final Four.

    “There seemed to be a lot of going back and forth but they’re the best in the country and that’s why they’re officiating. They’re the best officials in the country.”

    Said Butler head coach Brad Stevens: “We’re not a better basketball team than Old Dominion or Pitt, we just had the ball last.

    “You hate to see a game end that way but I asked Shelvin did he think he fouled [Brown] and he thought he fouled him and Matt thought he got fouled so that’s the way the game ended.”

    Pitt (28-6) won the Big East regular season crown and had designs on advancing to the first Final Four of the Dixon Era. The Panthers were the lone No. 1 seed from a record 11 Big East teams invited to the Big Dance.

    Junior point guard Ashton Gibbs had more or less guaranteed the Panthers would advance to Houston after losing to UConn in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

    Instead, Pitt became the 14th No. 1 seed to lose its second game of the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 seeds entered the tournament with a 91-13 record in second-round games.

    Instead of heading to New Orleans, the seniors Brown, Gary McGhee and Brad Wanamaker have played their last college games ever.

    “We’ll never be able to put this jersey on again and go out and play with our teammates,” said Brown, who scored 15 of his team-high 24 points in the second half. “This being our last game is really an emotional blow to us.”

    After trailing 38-30 at the half because Butler made 6 of 10 from beyond the arc, the Panthers actually outscored Butler, 40-33, in the second half.

    “We lost that game in the first half with mental lapses,” Brown said.

    “That last 2.5 [seconds] everything could’ve been avoided if I make a free throw and Nasir doesn’t foul. That’s just the way it went. They’re a great team and all the credit is due to them.”

    Dixon faced questions leading up to the game about his team’s failure to reach a Final Four, and those questions didn’t dissipate in the wake of this shocking loss.

    “I think everybody remembers the losses,” Dixon said. “We’ve won a number of games in the tournament as well. We’ve been consistently good every year so everyone looks to us.

    “We’ve been about as consistent as anybody in the country. Every loss is disappointing. Every time we’ve lost in the tournament, there’s been no good losses.

    “We’ve just got to keep working hard and keep putting ourselves in a position that we’re in. That’s what we’ll do and that’s what we have done.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.