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.