FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sophomore Xavier Johnson’s layup with 11 seconds gave Pittsburgh the lead for good, as the Panthers rallied past Kansas State, 63-59, to earn a spot in the championship game of the Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans Fort Myers Tipoff on Monday night at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
With the loss, K-State (4-1) will play Bradley (4-2) in the tournament’s third-place game at 5 p.m., CT on Wednesday. The Braves lost to Northwestern, 78-51, in the second semifinal game.
Down 57-51 with 4:06 to play, K-State used a 7-0 run over an 81-second stretch to take a 58-57 lead over Pittsburgh with 2:45 to play. With the opportunity to extend the lead, the Wildcats missed four consecutive field goals and the front end of two 1-and-1 free throw opportunities before Johnson’s go-ahead lay-up.
Johnson extended the lead with a pair of free throws after an offensive foul on junior Cartier Diarra with 5 seconds left before freshman Justin Champagnie finished it off with two more from the line.
On a night when K-State knocked down 10 3-point field goals on 50 percent shooting, it was poor shooting from inside the arc (13-of-38) and from the free throw line (3-of-13) that proved to be the difference in the game. Despite holding Pitt to just 1-of-16 shooting from 3-point range, the Panthers connected on 67.7 percent (21-of-31) of their field goals inside the arc and hit on 85.7 percent (18-of-21) from the free throw line.
The Wildcats were led by Diarra, who posted 13 points on 5-of-14 field goals, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range, to go with team-highs in assists (6) and steals (3) and 4 rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Freshman DaJuan Gordon collected his first career double-digit scoring game with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-4 from long range to go with 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Fellow freshman Antonio Gordon, who earned his first career start, enjoyed a solid all-around effort with 7 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 3 steals in 26 minutes.
Four Panthers scored in double figures led by 13 points each from graduate transfer Eric Hamilton and junior Ryan Murphy, while Johnson and Champagnie added 12 points apiece to aid the balanced scoring effort. Hamilton also a game-high 12 rebounds for the double-double, as the squad held a 40-30 advantage on the boards.
K-State led by as many as 10 points in the first half, including 27-17 after a 3-pointer by sophomore Shaun Williams with 3:59 before halftime, before Pittsburgh finished off the half with an 11-3 run to close the gap to 30-28 with the teams’ headed to the locker rooms. The teams traded the lead in the early part of the second half before Pitt used an 8-0 run to take the 57-51 lead with 4:06 to play.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Unlike its first four games of the season, K-State enjoyed stellar start to the first half, scoring 9 straight points before Pitt head coach Jeff Capel III called a timeout at the 16:20 mark. First-time starter Antonio Gordon was responsible for 7 of the team’s first 9 points, including a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game.
The Panthers slowly chipped away at the deficit, closing to 14-10 on a pair of free throws by freshman Justin Champagnie with 9:11 remaining. During the stretch, they scored 10 of the game’s 15 points.
The Wildcats responded by scoring 13 of the next 20 points keyed by back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman DaJuan Gordon to take a 27-17 lead into the final media timeout with 3:55 before halftime. Gordon scored 10 of the team’s 13 points in the span, while sophomore Shaun Williams connected on his first 3-pointer to cap the run.
Pitt took advantage of foul problems by K-State, ending the half on an 11-3 to close to within 30-28 at the half. With three Wildcat starters (A. Gordon, Makol Mawien and Xavier Sneed) out with 2 fouls, the Panthers scored 7 points out of the timeout to close to within 27-24 before junior Mike McGuirl canned a 3-pointer at the 1:49 mark. The Panthers closed with 4 consecutive free throws for the 30-28 halftime score.
K-State connected on 42.9 percent (12-of-28) from the field, including 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from 3-point range, while Pitt shot 40 percent (10-of-25), including 8.3 percent (1-of-12) from long range. DaJuan Gordon led all players with 12 points, while Antonio Gordon added 7 more points for the Wildcats.
The Panthers tied the game at 30-all on the first possession of the second half before the teams traded baskets over the next few possessions to enter the game’s first media timeout at 34-all at the 15:40 mark. They took their first lead on a dunk by Champagnie, the first consecutive buckets, before back-to-back 3-pointers from McGuirl and Diarra gave the Wildcats a 41-38 edge with 13:44 to play.
The teams traded shot over the next few minutes, including another 3-pointer by Diarra, before the score stood at 46-all at the third media timeout of the half at the 7:38 mark.
With the Wildcats clinging to a 51-49 lead after a 3-pointer by Williams, the Panthers scored eight consecutive points, including a 6-of-6 effort from the free throw line, to take a 57-51 lead into the final media timeout with 3:54 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Sneed on the next possession followed by a steal and lay-up by Diarra forced Pitt to call a timeout just 31 seconds later, clinging to a 57-56 lead. A jumper by Sneed after a Panther turnover gave the Wildcats a 58-57 lead on the next possession with 2:45 to play.
K-State had a number of opportunities down the stretch to extend its one-point lead, but the team combined to miss four field goals and the front end of a 1-and-1 on two occasions before Johnson’s lay-up with 11 seconds gave Pittsburgh the lead for good at 59-58. Johnson added a pair of free throws with 4 seconds remaining then after Diarra made 1-of-2 from the free throw line, Champagnie finished off the scoring with two more free throws.
The Panthers connected on 55 percent (12-of-22) from the field and 92 percent (11-of-12) from the free throw line in the second half, while the Wildcats managed to shoot just 37 percent (11-of-30) and hit just 2-of-9 free throws. Diarra scored 9 of his team-high 13 points in the second half, while Sneed added 8 points.
PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Junior Cartier Diarra led the Wildcats in three categories (points, assists and steals), as he posted 13 points on 5-of-14 field goals, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range, to go with 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in 34 minutes. He now has 6 or more assists in each of the team’s 5 games this season.
Freshman DaJuan Gordon collected his first career double-digit scoring game with 12 points on 5-of-9 field goals, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.
STAT(S) OF THE GAME
13-of-38 / 3-of-13 – K-State connected on just 34.2 percent (13-of-38) of its two-point field goals and just 23.1 percent (3-of-13) of its free throws on the night, while hitting on 50 percent (10-of-20) from beyond the arc.