(Published in Daily News March 8, 1985)
NEW YORK - It was the kind of basket you concede, even in a Big East Conference Tournament game. Give 'em the two points, shrug and forget it.
Pitt guard Joey David took the lead pass at midcourt and there wasn't a Villanova player in sight. Gary McLain was on the floor, Dwight Wilbur was tied up in traffic and David was all alone.
The Pitt lead was eight points going on 10 and along the Villanova bench, the memory of Saturday's 85-62 humiliation was rising in a dozen throats. Then, suddenly, there was Ed Pinckney.
"I was trailing the play," Wilbur said, "and I thought there was no way Ed could get there. Then I saw him go up, like he was flying, and I said, 'Oh my God, he's gonna do it ... ' "
Pinckney swooped in and flicked David's layup off the glass. Pitt coach Roy Chipman screamed goaltending, but referee Larry Lembo shook his head and signaled a clean block.
"Incredible play," Villanova coach Rollie Massimino said. "Just the fact he hustled back was impressive, but then he makes the block besides. That's what you call leading by example."
Pinckney did more than save two points; he changed the mood of the evening. He woke up the Villanova cheering section, he lifted his teammates and, most of all, he let Pitt know this was another day.
The Panthers opened last night's contest as if they thought it was a sequel to last weekend's rout of the 'Cats. They raced to a 14-7 lead and when freshman Charles Smith slammed David's lob over Harold Pressley, there was open laughter on the Pitt bench.
With his block, Pinckney served notice that the 'Cats were through messing around. The Panthers managed one field goal in the next five minutes and Villanova regrouped to win going away, 69-61.
"It was one of those plays," Pinckney said, shrugging. "I didn't think I could get there, but I was going to try. (David) slowed up a step to make sure he made the shot. That gave me just enough time.
"It's the kind of play you have to make this time of year. You get in these tournaments and it's the teams that work the hardest that stay alive. Like Coach says, you can't always shoot 90 percent but you can hustle."
Ed Pinckney rode the bench the last 17 minutes in Saturday's loss at Pitt. Massimino yanked his starters early in the second half trailing by 20 points, hoping it might make an impression, which it did.
"I was humiliated," Pinckney said. "I think we all were. Mentally, we weren't ready to play. Why? I don't know. It was a long season, we played a lot of tough games, maybe we were a little drained.
"All I know is we came out slow and (Pitt) played great. They shot almost 60 percent. We fell behind and things snowballed. At the half, Coach said if (the starters) didn't get it together he was going to pull us and he did.
"It hurt coming out like that," Pinckney said, "but he had his reasons. I respect that."
Pinckney's bottom line: 2 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 22 minutes. He had no field goals and only two attempts. This is the same guy who had 29 points and 16 boards against Maryland.
"Was it your lowest moment as a college player?" someone asked last night.
"Probably," Pinckney said softly. "I can't remember a time when I felt worse. All you can do is come back and work harder."
That's what Pinckney and the other Wildcats did this week. They practiced hard and thought positive. They studied the film of Saturday's game and worked on shutting down Smith, the gifted 6-9 freshman, inside.
Villanova had staggered down the stretch, losing four of five games and squeezing past St. Joseph's, 47-44, at the buzzer. There was talk the 'Cats might miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years if they lost to Pitt last night.
There was, in other words, ample reason to be concerned. But all along, Pinckney felt the players had to look no further than their own huddle to find their way back to respectability.
"We didn't have any team meeting this week," Pinckney said. "After 27 games what can you say that hasn't already been said?
"We knew how badly we played on Saturday. Talking about it wasn't going to change anything. What we had to do was get back to basics. Playing good, hard basketball. If we do that, we'll win."
What everyone wanted the Villanova players to say last night - indeed, what several newsmen tried to coax them to say - was they saw this as a grudge match.
The word "revenge" was heard over and over in the locker room. The Wildcats said no, that wasn't the issue at all.
"We had something to prove, that's true, but not to the Pitt players," Pinckney said. "We wanted to show the people here and in the (NCAA) tournament that we were still a good basketball team.
"Those revenge deals don't usually work out anyway. You wind up beating yourself. Tonight, we played hard but we played under control. The second half we worked the ball well and took good shots (hitting 16 of 28).
"Look at the stats," Pinckney said. "It was a team effort, four guys in double figures. That's when we're at our best. That's the way we'll have to play if we hope to beat St. John's (tonight in the semifinals)."
It was a team effort, true enough, but it was Pinckney who made it possible. His numbers were hardly spectacular - 11 points, nine rebounds - but he was there every time the Wildcats needed a key board or a loose ball.
He scored seven of the first 11 points, keeping the Wildcats in the game while his teammates worked through the jitters. He played tough defense on Smith, holding the Panthers' leading scorer to a painless 13.
"We're into the postseason phase, which means there's no room for mistakes," Pinckney said. "You look at the teams in this tournament - Georgetown, St. John's, Syracuse - and you realize you can't expect to win by catching your opponent on a bad night.
"To win here, you have to execute and play good defense. Pitt has a lot of talent. They showed us what they could do last week. They're capable of beating anybody. They could have beaten us tonght if we didn't pull ourselves together.
"Coach preaches character," Pinckney said, "and it really does make a difference. This team has been through a lot but it's never given up. And it never will."