I got to thinking after today’s game that there’s been a lot of great games at the Pete, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be there in person for just about all of them. So, because lists are fun, I thought I’d put together a list of my top 10 games at the Pete. Here goes.
10. 2/17/07 Pitt 65 Washington 61
The Huskies came into the Pete with Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes, two big men who were both McDonalds All Americans out of high school and very highly regarded. Pitt countered with their own frontcourt combo of Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall, two guys with less credentials but a lot more collegiate experience. Brockman and Hawes each scored in double digits, but balanced scoring for Pitt was the difference. After a back and forth game, Ronald Ramon hit a pair of free throws to finally put this one away and protect Pitt’s #7 ranking.
9. 1/2/05 Pitt 66 Bucknell 69
I guess not every game has to turn out well for Pitt. The Panthers lead for most of this game, until Kevin Bettencourt made a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left to take the lead. A pair more after a missed shot by Pitt would bring Bucknell to the winning 3 point margin. Pitt was ranked #10 at the time. Bucknell turned out to be giant killers that year, bringing down St. Joe’s and Kansas (in the tournament) as well. It hurt to see those guys jumping around like idiots after the game, but to be honest, you had to feel good for them. Just a little bit. They remain the only non-conference team to get a win at the Pete.
8. 3/7/09 Pitt 70 UConn 60
This was the culmination of a lot of UConn/Pitt matchups. Earlier in the year, Pitt went up to Stoors and beat the Huskies. It knocked them out of the #1 seed, and it provided the defining image of the rivalry: DeJuan Blair flipping Hasheem Thabeet over his back. For the return battle, the Huskies had climbed their way back into the #1 spot and were looking for revenge against #3 Pitt. They didn’t find it. With one of the loudest Petersen crowds I’ve ever heard behind them, Pitt pulled out to a 10 point halftime lead and never looked back. Sam Young had 31 points in the game which is still amazing to me. How in the world did he do that against UConn’s defense?
7. 1/21/07 Pitt 74 Marquette 77 (OT)
Another great game that just didn’t go quite in our favor. Marquette lead for most of the game and had a 9 point advantage with 4 minutes left. Pitt made a serious run, but Marquette refused to miss free throws (they didn’t miss from about 5 minutes left in the game on, going 15-15 in the stretch). Trailing by with 8 seconds left, Antonio Graves got fouled. He hit the first and missed the second which Ronald Ramon collected and was fouled himself. He then proceeded to hit both of his free throws to send it into overtime. That sequence still amazes me. The odds of it happening are so slim it’s mind boggling. Overtime was as exciting as could be with 4 ties and 3 lead changes. With Pitt up by 1, Dominique James was fouled while shooting with 1 freaking second left. I still maintain that it should have been let go, but I digress. Dominique made both free throws and Wesley Matthews was fouled on the Pitt inbound play (that definitely set me off), and put in two more to made the winning margin 3. I’ve never left the Pete more upset. This would have been much higher on the list because it was a phenomenal game, but I’m putting it further down the list because I want to forget it.
6. 2/15/04 Pitt 75 UConn 68
This was the first really big game at the Pete. Pitt was ranked #4 at the time so they had been winning, but they never played a team in the top 5 while being favored. That’s what happened when #5 UConn rolled into town. Tickets were being scalped outside for hundreds of dollars, but those that didn’t sell their tickets got quite a show. Jim Calhoun got a technical foul in the first 2 minutes. Pitt built up a 9-2 foul advantage (I thought Calhoun’s head was going to explode) and the Panthers used it to gain a quick lead. UConn came back, however. Emeka Okafor (UConn’s star center) was in foul trouble. He picked up some early fouls and sat which was a big reason Pitt jumped out to its lead. He came back and UConn clawed back to single digits. He picked up his fourth foul with about 10 minutes left, and Pitt went on an 11-0 run while he was back on the bench. That was the ballgame. I’ve never seen Jim Calhoun so upset. Ben Gordan (UConn’s point guard) had 21 in an attempt to carry the team. Pitt countered with a lot of points from it’s role players: Mark McCarroll had 15 points and Jaron Brown had 17. I feel like the refs kind of gave this one to Pitt, but I’ll take it. It was an absolutely huge win for the program.
5. 1/13/07 Pitt 74 Georgetown 69
Speaking of program building wins, this was another one. Pitt was finally starting to get some respect in the 06/07 season, and along comes the biggest stage they had ever played on. ESPN’s College Gameday came to Pitt for the matchup against Georgetown. The big storyline matchup was again in the low post. The Hoyas came in with Roy Hibbert, and Pitt had Aaron Gray. Both were upperclassmen who were some of the best at their position. The students were out in force at 9 am for the College Gameday taping, and kept the excitment up until the game finally tipped at 9pm. By the time the game started, the arena was about ready to blow its roof off. All people had to do was look up at the open concourse below the banners where ESPN set up a stage for Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis to know that this was a huge game. Gray and Hibbert canceled each other out though Gray probably out-played Hibbert a bit, and the difference was again Pitt’s depth. Pitt’s physical play put them over the top, though Georgetown was able to keep it within 10 or 15 for most of the second half. Winning a game like that on national TV opened up a lot of eyes.
4. 2/29/04 Pitt 46 Syracuse 49 (OT)
The last game on the list without a happy ending. Pitt entered this game with the nations longest home winning streak. It was the second to last home game of the year when Jim Boeheim brought his guys to the Pete. The game was fantastic. The largest lead the whole way through was 6 points. It’s was physical and defensive oriented and well played overall at both ends. The last possession was Pitt’s, trailing by 1. Pitt did the smart thing which was to get the ball down low to Chevy Troutman. Chevy missed the layup, but the refs gave us a gift and called the foul with 3 seconds left. I still think we got away with one there, but it didn’t cost Syracuse the game, anyway. Chevy went to the line, hit the first, and missed the second. In the overtime, we kept feeding Chris Taft, but Gerry McNamara had 5 points by himself, and Syracuse won. It was the first loss ever in the Pete. It was also the first really drama filled game there.
3. 1/16/10 Pitt 82 Louisville 77 (OT)
The game that was just played. There are two reasons why I have this game above the other overtime games listed here. First and foremost, we won. Leaving happy moves you up the list. I’m biased. Second of all, like the Marquette game this one had a really improbable comeback. We were down by 5 with a minute left. I saw people leave. We were dead. But due to a 1-5 free throw shooting streak in the final minute by Louisville, we made it back to tie at the end of regulation. Once again, the odds of a great shooting team like Louisville dying like that are slim. It still amazes me that it happened. Combine that with the expectations for this year, the lack of star players, and you get one heck of a game to tell people about. The only downside to this game was that it lacked excitement in OT. It seemed like Louisville was stunned to be there and threw in the towel. We out-rebounded them in the overtime 6-2. That’s a clear sign of their motivation level. But, other than that, it was a terrific game. The atmosphere was once again electric, and it got my heart pounding. It’s the type of win you leave just loving life.
2. 2/7/08 Pitt 55 WVU 54
I don’t think I’ve ever left a game loving life more than when I left this one. It has to be my favorite Pitt game of all time, and it would easily grab the top spot if it weren’t for a simply indescribable game I still can’t believe I got to witness. All I have to say is Ronald Ramon. You know exactly what game I mean, right? Exactly. If not, here’s something to jog your memory:
Man, there are so many reasons why this is a great game. The fact that it was a rivalry. The fact that it was won on a last second buzzer beater (as opposed to just a close game). The WVU collapse leading up to it where they couldn’t make a free throw to save their lives. It just all came together into a classic game.
1. 1/4/06 Pitt 100 Notre Dame 97 (2OT)
This was just a simply incredible game. It’s another one that’s defined by one player: Chris Quinn. Notre Dame was like Rasputin in this game, they just refused to die. The Irish were struggling in this game, but hung around just enough. With under a minute left they were down by 9. Any other team in America would have been packing it in. The fans sure were. I was starting to see a lot of blue seats and jackets being put on. But then something got into Chris Quinn and I’m not sure what it was. In the last minute he hit two 3 pointers that, along with 2 more 3 pointers by Colin Falls, were enough to force overtime. That was crazy enough, but he wasn’t done. Pitt built a quick 7 point advantage in the first overtime and the crowd was going nuts. Quinn answered with 8 points by himself to send it into double overtime including the tying three point shot with 5 seconds left. He then proceeded to lead off the third overtime with the first bucket and the crowd was getting pretty restless. But that was all the magic he had left in him. He turned it over, missed a drive to the hoop, and that was it. But it’s still the most amazing individual performace I’ve ever seen. Chris wound up with Petersen Center records for points (37), field goals (13), field goal attempts (23) and opponent assists (9). And he did all that with the Zoo getting on him harder than I’ve ever heard them get on anyone before, and the entire Pitt defense zeroing in on him because he was quite literally the only guy who could score. And he wasn’t just hitting shots. He was hitting from distance. There were some shots he made that I swear were about 5 or 6 feet behind the 3 point arc. Just incredible.
So, that’s my list. If you think I missed something, let me know. I think it’s pretty impressive considering that the building’s only in it’s eighth season. But I guess that’s a testament to the quality of program that resides there. As of today, Pitt is 125-10 at the Pete. That’s incredible. That kind of record means that lots of teams come in with extra motivation. It means that we have a team that’s going to bring out the best in all our opponents, and who is talented enough to match that level. That’s what’s been creating all of these terrific games. I’ll be going to a lot more in the future, and I hope to have a list with a few new additions in a few years.