Collier: Panthers don't stop believing

March 6, 2012 8:47 pm

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NEW YORK -- Given the lingering malaise of a dreary basketball winter at both Pitt and St. John's, few were buying the whole ramp-up notion that their meeting in the Big East tournament would be nothing less than a clash of belief systems.

But belief persisted.

The Johnnies cast themselves as true believers, dedicated to a new liturgy that they could not only whip the Panthers less than a week after getting shish-kabobed by the hottest shooting night of Pitt's season, but that they could win the whole thing here this week with a team so inexperienced that no one in its six-man rotation had ever played in a Big East tournament game.

The Panthers were on the same illogical opiate -- raging belief -- with J.J. Moore venturing that Pitt might rake five wins in five days out of the Big Apple, never mind that it took five weeks to get the last five.

"We believe," Moore had said. "The coaches believe. I believe. We're just going to keep believing."

That's fine as far as it goes, but what became necessary to digest Pitt's 73-59 dismissal of St. John's was more the suspension of disbelief. In one sense, this brutish, fitful first-round tournament game was pretty much what Pitt-St. John's is supposed to look like at Madison Square Garden in the first week of March, but only if you understand the depressingly minimal stakes -- namely that somebody was going to be headed home before the Tuesday rush hour.

Big East legends always have been, always will be, constructed on the weekend.

"This was a big game," said Moore, citing that distinction as the primary difference between Tuesday and a 20-point win against the same opponent last Wednesday. "It's the Garden, the Big East tournament, and I just thought we played and executed the way we wanted to play. We played good defense and limited them offensively. We played very hard."

Moore's only 3-pointer, a long pumpkin-chuck from deep on the left wing, ran the Panthers second-half lead to 51-38 with 11:34 remaining, and rubbed away any remaining skittishness from a Pitt team that allowed St. John's to believe much longer than it should have.

At the start, for example, with St. John's getting field goals on only two of its first 18 possessions, Pitt still led by only 13-8. St. John's bolted from there to a 26-20 lead and, had it not been for five quick points from Ashton Gibbs that included one of his four 3s, Pitt might have stopped believing right there.

First Published 2012-03-06 19:48:19

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