WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Most of the 45 minutes of basketball played between Pitt and Wake Forest on Thursday night was disjointed, sloppy and inconsistent. As ugly as it was though, one team was bound to make more plays than the other. Somebody had to win.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, the squad that stepped up was Wake Forest. On their senior night, the Demon Deacons erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit, pushed the game to overtime and beat Pitt 64-61 in front of a handful of masked fans inside Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Trailing by a single point with 52 seconds to play, Pitt (4-8; 2-7 ACC) had the chance to take a late lead in overtime, but attempts by Dayshanette Harris and Rita Igbokwe both missed the mark. The Panthers had an opportunity to tie with 23 seconds left too, but Destiny Strother’s three-pointer bounced off the rim.
“It’s the same story. We just panicked,” Pitt head coach Lance White said. “They really, really want it – but just knowing how to win, they don’t know how to do that yet, and how to do it together and make the plays that you have to make.”
The win for Wake Forest 10-8; 7-7 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak to the Panthers and kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Wake has beaten teams like Georgia Tech and No. 25 Missouri State, while also playing powers like No. 3 Louisville and No. 18 Arkansas close. Still, they’ve piled up some unlikely losses too, and it seemed for a while that Pitt was going to add to that total.
“This was a must-win,” Wake head coach Jen Hoover said. “I didn’t tell the players that, and that’s no disrespect to a Pitt team that’s getting better and better… But this was a team – at home – that you have to beat.”
For the Panthers, a sequence near the end of the third quarter seemed to turn the momentum in their favor, as a 7-2 run would give Pitt its first two-possession lead of the game. Harris broke a 34-34 tie open at the 1:57 mark when she received a pass from Amber Brown and crashed into the defense to convert an And-1. After a Wake lay-up on the other end, Igbokwe connected on a look near the basket. After a miss by Wake, Igbokwe grabbed the board and it was fed up the floor to Harris, who swished a jumper to push Pitt’s lead to five points.
That lead grew to nine points shortly into the fourth quarter as Jayla Everett and Gabbie Green hit back-to-back three-pointers from the corners, and Brown sank a pair of free throws with ease, putting Pitt ahead 49-40 with 7:20 to play.
But Wake charged back and tied the game with 32.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a deep shot behind the arc from Gina Conti. Neither Pitt or Wake could convert another basket to seal the game in regulation.
In overtime, Wake jumped out with a 5-0 run, highlighted by a three-pointer from Jewel Spear. Despite Everett’s best efforts, that would prove to be enough cushion between the Deacs and the Panthers.
Everett led all Pitt scorers with 12 points, but needed to take 17 shots to get there. Brown tallied 11 points to go along with seven rebounds and three assists. Harris contributed across the box score with seven points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals. And Igbokwe had a season-high 12 rebounds to pair with seven points and two blocks.
While Pitt’s defense was stout – forcing Wake into 16 turnovers and holding them to 3-of-16 from three-point range – Wake’s defensive efforts were just as solid. Pitt’s 31% shooting mark from the floor is the lowest field goal percentage the Deacs have held an opponent to this season.
“This was one of the best defensive games we played,” White said. “We couldn’t have scripted that any better. For 36 minutes, we played really great basketball.”
For both teams, the first half of the contest was especially lackluster, as neither team connected on 10 shots from the floor.
In what was likely her last game inside the Joel, Conti led all scorers with 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Their two seniors went and made plays. Conti, down the stretch, a senior who’s been through the wars and who understands how to make plays, her and (Ivana Raca) just went and made plays,” White said. “We turned it over and take ill-advised shots and all of those things down the stretch. We just have to grow.”
Considering Pitt lost by just three points, two stats on the box score will particularly sting: three missed free throws and 15 turnovers.
The Panthers, now riding a four-game losing streak, will have to regroup and refocus quickly. On Sunday, the UNC Tar Heels – fresh off beating No. 4 N.C. State – are coming to Pittsburgh.