Guillermo Diaz-Graham’s Heroic Block, Defensive Effort Drive Panthers in Riveting Win
DAYTON, Ohio — Pitt’s Guillermo Diaz-Graham had the opportunity of a lifetime on Tuesday night, and the young Spaniard certainly made the most of it.
The Panthers were without their starting five man Federiko Federiko (knee) and were facing one of the most feared bigs in the college game in Tolu Smith. Diaz-Graham, weighing just over 200 pounds, stepped up to the plate and had the game of his life against Smith.
After building its lead to a game-high six late, Pitt let Mississippi State back into the game as the Bulldogs eventually took a one-point lead with 30 seconds on the clock. With time ticking down, Jamarius Burton — the team’s leader — hit perhaps the biggest shot of his life.
JAMARIUS BURTON FOR THE LEAD WITH 10 SECONDS TO PLAY ❄️#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/LBH3vkjHXi
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 15, 2023
Burton drained a mid-range jumper with less than 10 seconds remaining, sending the ball back to the Bulldogs.
It was then that Diaz-Graham’s name was called once again. After a timeout, Mississippi State’s Smith drove to the rack. Surely he would hit the game-winner and break the hearts of Pitt fans, right? Wrong.
The fearless, powerful big had struggled to break through all night, but was still a first-team All-SEC interior presence going up against the rookie Diaz-Graham. Triumphantly, Diaz-Graham swatted away Smith’s shot at the rim, letting all of his emotions out after the block with just seconds remaining.
The Block pic.twitter.com/DUpLgiTZxl
— Jim Hammett (@JimHammett) March 15, 2023
“Just all the energy coming out of my body,” Diaz-Graham said after the game. “I did a block, I don’t even know how, with my left hand. I usually don’t use my left hand. And I blocked it, and I knew it was a big play, so I just let the energy go out. It’s not that good, but I got it locked in back to the two seconds left, but I just couldn’t contain it inside me.”
After Burton played hero with 10 seconds to go on the offensive end, Diaz-Graham stepped up in his moment, swatting away the opportunity of a lifetime for Smith to take his Bulldogs to the Round of 64.
Diaz-Graham finished the battle with Smith with three points, five rebounds, and two blocks. Smith, who came in averaging more than 15 points and eight rebounds per game, was limited to 13 points and eight boards by the rookie.
“Man, I’m exhausted,” Diaz-Graham added. “That was a hell of a fight. He’s a really good player, and he was trying to attack me every time. Of course he’s bigger than me. Just fighting, he’s bigger than me but I’m going to fight more than you. It’s exhausting, but we won, so it was worth it.
“For a freshman to step up on this stage and to play like he did, five rebounds, two blocks, his ball screen defense at the end, for the last, I’d say, about eight minutes, we tried to trap every ball screen with the 5,” Jeff Capel said about Diaz-Graham. “And for him to be able to do that and get back in there and to fight and to battle, this is the most minutes he’s played all year, and just really, really happy for him.”