Wow. We thought the SHU/SPC game had a wild finish? I'm not sure I've seen anything like this.
Leading by 7 with 1:35 left in the game, the Pirates allowed an easy Preston Knowles offensive rebound and subsequent tip-in to fall, which pulled the Cardinals within 5. Madness ensued. Eugene Harvey seemed to throw the next possession right into the arms of Edgar Sosa, who converted another open layup. With the lead cut to 3 points and 82 seconds on the clock, Gonzo used another timeout as Pirates fans everywhere muttered, "this isn't happening. Again." Yet, it was. The Pirates were facing a potentially season ending collapse. Sure, they would have still been mathematically alive, but a loss tonight would have done serious damage to their collective morale.
How would the Pirates respond faced with adversity in tonight's game? They managed to inbound the basketball cleanly, however, 20 seconds into the possession, Keon Lawrence made a crucial turnover. Samuels came up with the steal and found Sosa streaking to the basket and as the Cardinals were about to cut the lead to one point, Keon Lawrence made what may have been a game-saving block. The Cardinals were able to chase down the loose ball, but Keon's refusal to give up on the play after just making a terrible turnover saved an easy 2 points for the Cardinals. Despite Knowles chasing down the loose ball, JT was able to force a turnover and found Hazell on the opposite end of the floor to send home a thunderous dunk, giving the Pirates a 5 point cushion with 36 ticks on the timex. Well, the Pirates and their fans could collectively exhale, correct? Not so fast. It hasn't come easy and I'm starting to think nothing will this season. Of course, there was some more excitement left in store.
After a Louisville possession that saw the Cardinals take two shots on the assistance of an offensive rebound, Samuels finished around the rim, making it a 3PT game.
Side note, does anyone else wonder how our opponents get so many open looks around the rim with the clock dwindling away? When protecting a 5-7 point margin with a minute or so remaining, it might be beneficial to actually foul the opposing big men? You know, send them to the line? Make them work for the points. Ever hear of, "no easy layups?"
Jordan Theodore went to the line in an attempt to push the lead to two possessions and after the Pirates shot well from the stripe all night, JT hit just 1-of-2, extending the lead to 4 points. Louisville missed their next 3PT attempt, the Pirates rebounded and used a timeout with 10 seconds remaining. All but over right? Nope. After a quick Cardinals foul, it was Lawrence's turn to shoot free throws with 7 seconds left, trying to seal this one with a 6 point cushion. Like JT, Keon only came away with 1-of-2. Edgar Sosa then found Jerry Smith who sank a 3PT shot, cutting the Pirates lead to 2 with .7 seconds remaining. This is where it gets cloudy, very cloudy. Keon Lawrence picked up the basketball from the made 3PT shot and while standing on the baseline, he took one step forward over the baseline. I can't explain what he was doing or what he was thinking, but he clearly stepped over the line. Realizing he made a violation, Keon stopped dead in his tracks, paused and then continued to inbound the basketball while already standing inbounds. The referee on the baseline signaled the violation with his hand, yet almost instantaneously called for the basketball. Keon threw it to the ref, who caught it and passed it back, Keon then successfully inbounded the ball to Hazell, who was fouled with .2 seconds on the clock.
Now, I'm not sure what the officials explanation was, but Pitino was livid and by what I saw on television, he had a right to be. Hilariously, after Hazell was fouled, the cameras cut to Bobby Gonzalez who was just as vivid as Pitino. You would have thought, Gonzo was on the raw-side of the deal here. He looked to be pumping his first in the direction of Pitino who was still riding the officials about the inbounds violation. Oh no. You hate to see a basketball game end in controversial fashion, but from what was shown on TV, that's what it looked like to me. Again, I have no idea if the ref who made the violation signal actually called for the ball before Keon stepped over the line? Did another official go to the scorers table to check how much time was remaining on the clock? There could be a number of reasons as to why they didn't call the violation, however, by watching the broadcast, I have no idea. It will be interesting to see what explanation the refs give to the media, a lot of interested parties will be asking.
Hit the jump for a look at the individual performances:
-After a week of talk that his play was diminishing, Jeremy Hazell contributed his most complete game of the year. It was pretty to watch. Bigg Game finished with 25PTS on 9-of-12 shooting. Granted, he took an awful 3PT attempt with his team trying to control the clock in the final 2 minutes, but that was probably the only bad decision Hazell made all night. All 3 of Hazell's missed shots came from beyond the arc. He was penetrating, drawing fouls (4-of-6 FT), finding his teammates and hitting the boards. His final line: 25PTS/5REB/2STL/2AST/1TO. If Hazell can produce like this for the rest of the season, the Pirates really will have a chance to put together quite a run.
-Once again, Herb Pope found himself in foul trouble, eventually fouling out with just under 2 minutes to play. Pope only had one foul at halftime, but piled them on quickly in the 2nd half. He did play well, adding 10PTS/7REB/4AST/STL/BLK before his night was over.
-The Pirates outshot the Cardinals in every category, FG: 53% to 44%, 3PT: 42% to 26% and FT: 68% to 56%.
-Remember that 1.1 AST/TO ratio the Cardinals are sporting? Tonight, they outdid themselves. 9AST/13TO. Can't win too many conference games with that glaring hole. The other area I thought the Pirates would need to win in order to be successful was the glass, although the Cardinals actually held their own with 34REBs opposed to the Pirates' 33REB.
-Jordan Theodore's play was exceptional, welcome yourself to the starting PG nod. Seriously, if we see Gonzo roll out anyone else at PG against Pitt, it deserves to be questioned, loudly. JT finished with 17PTS/4AST/4STL/2REB on 5-of-11 shooting. The numbers don't entirely speak for Jordan's game tonight. He was making smart decisions, finding his teammates first and looking for his shot second. He successfully penetrated to the basket on many occasions, making tough layups look easy. Late in the game, Harvey made a careless turnover then looked like he didn't want anything to do with the basketball from there on out. Gonzalez saw enough and inserted Theodore into the game to lead his team to the finish. He delivered. Let's hope the high quality play on display tonight continues throughout the rest of conference play. The Pirates desperately need it from their point guard, any point guard, JT looks ready to step up to fill that role.
-Jeff Robinson put forth a great game, finishing with 12PTS/8REB on 5-of-10 shooting. Most of his shots were good looks, however, you know where I'm going with this. In the first half, JRob unleashed his, "once-a-game-ugly-3PT-attempt-that-subsequently-missed," despite shelving the attempt over the last couple of games. He's now 0-for-7 from long distance on the season.
A wild and exciting night for sure, that refused to end without a bit of controversy.
...Much more to come in tomorrow's Day After Post, I'm sure the Louisville media are going to have a field day with this outcome.