By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PITTSBURGH — As even-keeled as players come, UVa guard Malcolm Brogdon rarely shows emotion on the basketball court. But there he was Sunday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center, the broadest of smiles spread across his face, his arms raised in triumph, teammates surrounding him.
Who could blame him for celebrating? In the final seconds, on a flawlessly executed play in which the Cavaliers used senior guard Joe Harris as a decoy, Brogdon took a pass from freshman point guard London Perrantes and buried an NBA-length 3-pointer. His shot dropped through with four-tenths of a second left, putting Virginia up 48-45 on Pittsburgh, and that’s how this ACC game ended in front of a sellout crowd of 12,508.
“That’s a highlight, for sure,” Brogdon said after the first game-winning shot of his career, at any level.
“Winning that game is huge. If Joe had hit that shot I would have had the same reaction. It’s just huge winning in Pittsburgh. Not many teams can do that.”
Indeed, the Panthers, ranked No. 17 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, have lost at the Petersen Center only 24 times in 12 seasons. Pitt (18-4, 6-3) was 12-1 at home this season entering its Super Sunday showdown with UVa (17-5, 8-1), the ACC’s second-place team.
Pitt’s raucous student section, clad in gold T-shirts, calls itself the Oakland Zoo, and its intensity never waned Sunday. But the Wahoos remained unfazed in their first game in this city since 1976.
“They were more physical than us and just out-toughed us,” Pitt forward Michael Young said. “Very good team.”
The victory was the Cavaliers’ first this season against a ranked opponent. They’re off to their best start in ACC play since 1981-82, when they won 12 of their first 13 league games. Virginia has won five straight since a four-point loss at Duke on Jan. 13.
“This is big for us, and we’re just moving on in our conference,” UVa big man Akil Mitchell said. “We’re just gonna keep rolling.”
Mitchell, a 6-8 senior, finished with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, his 15th career double-double. Brogdon, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore, led the Cavaliers with 16 points and also contributed five rebounds and four assists, with no turnovers.
Moreover, Brogdon spearheaded Virginia’s defensive efforts on Pitt star Lamar Patterson — Harris and sophomore swingman Justin Anderson also took shifts on the 6-5 forward — with impressive results. Patterson scored only 10 points, nearly eight fewer than his average.
“We said, `We gotta do it collectively,’ ” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “When you play a player as good as Patterson, he’s got to earn. Make him earn. He doesn’t get any free baskets.”
Harris, a Chelan, Wash., resident, donned a Seattle Seahawks jersey for the trip home. “I gotta represent out here,” he said, smiling. Harris battled foul trouble for much of the game but still scored 11 hard-earned points.
Anderson supplied a huge lift in the second half, scoring back-to-back baskets after Pitt had gone up three points, and Perrantes had four assists and no turnovers.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” Bennett said.
Like Bennett’s teams at Virginia, Jamie Dixon’s at Pitt pride themselves on playing rugged defense. This game offered ESPNU viewers a compelling contrast to the Duke-Syracuse shootout that captivated viewers and a record crowd at the Carrier Dome on Saturday night.
“It was tough,” Mitchell said. “That’s what we wanted. That was a lot of fun. It was fun to see a team defend us the way that we would probably defend ourselves. That’s Coach Bennett, that’s Jamie Dixon.”
Brogdon’s game-winner was Virginia’s first field goal since the 8:12 mark, when Harris broke a 38-38 tie with a 3-pointer. Overall, the `Hoos shot 40.4 percent from the floor Sunday; the Panthers, 31.9 percent.
Harris made only 4 of 12 shots from the floor. Patterson only 3 of 14.
“It was just one of those grinder games,” Bennett said. “You could tell after the first five, six minutes, there’s not going to be a lot of easy scoring or easy looks.”
In many ways, Bennett told his players before the game, the teams mirrored each other, and that often seemed to be the case Sunday.
“They play really tough-nosed defense, and they take their time on offense,” Brogdon said of the Panthers. “And that’s why it was such a hard-fought game and so close.”
Pitt’s largest lead was four points, for a 24-second stretch early in the second half. Virginia never led by more than three.
“I thought it was a beautifully played game in terms of [being] hard-fought,” Bennett said.
The Panthers led 23-21 at the break. The Cavaliers, who had grown accustomed to one-sided wins over ACC foes, struggled to find their rhythm offensively in the first half, but Bennett wasn’t overly concerned. With his team playing so hard and so well defensively, he knew Pitt would find it difficult to pull away.
“I told the guys at halftime, `I love this,’ ” Bennett recalled. “And with three-and-a-half minutes [left], I said, `This is where you want to be. Right now, right here. This is where we want to be.’ ”
With 7:28 to play, the score was 41-41 when Harris went to the line for two free throws. He missed both, and on Pitt’s next possession a well-defended Cameron Wright banked in a desperation 3-pointer from the top of the key as the shot clock expired.
The home fans roared and the building shook, but the Cavaliers did not panic. A Brogdon free throw made it 44-42. Then, with the Zoo still riding him for the 3-point attempt he’d air-balled in the first half, Perrantes calmly sank two foul shots, pulling UVa even at 44-44 with 4:57 left.
Harris made 1 of 2 free throws with 3:11 remaining to tie the game again, this time at 45-45. A shot-clock violation gave possession back to the `Hoos with 1:25 to play, but Harris missed a runner, and the Panthers came up with the ball after a scramble for the rebound.
With 17 seconds left, Pitt point guard James Robinson, a former UVa recruiting target, found himself open on the right wing and put up a 3-point attempt. It missed, but the Panthers’ Jamel Artis grabbed the offensive rebound. Artis couldn’t convert his stickback attempt, however, and Virginia big man Anthony Gill corraled the all-important rebound.
Bennett called time out with 9.1 seconds left. In the huddle, he instructed his players to run a play he had recently installed.
“It’s funny, we run that a lot in practice,” Bennett said, smiling. “We never make it in practice.”
The play called for Harris to run off screens set by Brogdon and two big men, in this case Gill and 6-11 sophomore Mike Tobey, and for Brogdon to follow him.
“We practice that at the end of practice every day,” Harris said. “We anticipate everybody’s just going to stick with me.”
That’s exactly what happened Sunday. Harris came off the third screen and cut toward the basket, and Brogdon, freed momentarily by Gill’s and Tobey’s picks, popped open near the top of the key. He caught Perrantes’ pass and, without hesitating, launched the 3-pointer that silenced the stunned home fans.
“My head is still pounding from that shot,” Perrantes said, “Malcolm works so hard for stuff like that, and to see that go in for him, go in for all of us, it was a huge blessing for us.”
Harris said: “It’s funny. We were giving Malcolm a hard time after the game: `You didn’t make any at practice, but we’ll take this one.’ Everybody was just happy that he knocked it down. It was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of.”
Bennett, as coaches are wont to do, downplayed the significance of the win.
“I’ve said it before: This doesn’t make our season, it doesn’t break our season, win or lose,” Bennett told reporters at his postgame press conference.
Still, he was clearly delighted to have won in the city where his father, Dick, was born and raised. As he walked to the team bus, with the Super Bowl kickoff about three hours away, Bennett smiled and said, “Now I can enjoy the game.”
UP NEXT: Virginia’s only regular-season meeting against Boston College is Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. UVa hosts BC (6-15, 2-6) at 7 o’clock in a game ESPN2 will televise.
The teams split their two games in 2012-13. The Cavaliers won 65-51 at JPJ, and the Eagles rallied for a 53-52 victory at Conte Forum. The loss at BC dealt a severe blow to UVa’s hopes of advancing to the NCAA tournament. Virginia ended up in the NIT.