The #23 Panthers shot 6-for-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and pulled away in the final minutes to grab a 62-52 win on the road in a street fight against #17 Cincinnati. Only Pitt (20-5, 8-4 Big East) and Marquette have 8 wins in the Big East right now and are in third place behind the Golden Eagles and Syracuse.
"It was a good road win against a very good team," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "We can see our guys growing up and getting better every day."
Pitt's defense held Cincinnati (18-5, 6-4 Big East) to 31 percent shooting from the floor and did not allow a field goal in the final nine minutes of the second half. The Panthers used a zone defense to perfection in the second half to stop the Bearcats' dribble-penetration. Also, after getting out-rebounded by six in the first half, the Panthers out-rebounded the Bearcats by three in the second half.
"I thought we would play a little zone but we stayed with it. How do you play [better defense] than that? Were taking more pride in defense and understanding the value of it," Dixon said. "That and the rebounding turned the tide in the second half. We didn’t get it done [rebounding] in the first half."
The Bearcats led 48-47 with five minutes left but a Lamar Patterson dunk 30 seconds later gave the Panthers a 49-48 lead and they never trailed again, outscoring the Bearcats 15-4 down the stretch. Patterson scored nine points and pulled down six rebounds.
"I feel like our offense is back to where it was," Dixon said. "Our offense was very good, we only took one or two questionable shots."
The Panthers did a much better job against Cincinnati's hounding, full-court defense this time compared to when they lost to the Bearcats 70-61 at home on New Years Eve. They only committed seven turnovers in the game and only two in the second half.
"Cincinnati is one of the best defensive teams in the country. We only had seven turnovers against a team that's pressing and reaching for 40 minutes," Dixon said. "Thirteen-seven assists to turnovers, that's a great job on the road."
Pitt was bothered in the first half by Cincinnati's full court defense but trailed only 31-26 at the half. The Panthers stayed close in the second half, then pulled away late as their defense stymied the Bearcats and their offense did just enough to hang on for the win. Sean Kilpatrick had 15 points in the first half but was held to one free throw in the second half for 16 points overall.
Dixon pointed out that Cincinnati doubled Pitt center Steve Adams and Talib Zanna in the first meeting, but did not this game. It ended up being the difference as Adams scored 13 points, pulled down two rebounds, and blocked four shots and Zanna added 11 points and pulled down nine boards. The Panther's frontcourt players made 18 of their first 31 points.
"Our big guys were alone in the post so we wanted to go inside and take good shots," Dixon said. "This was the first time we were able to go to Steve [Adams] in the post. We did a better job getting the ball inside and got results from him."
Tray Woodall also scored in double figures with 14 points. He sunk four three-pointers including a big three with 3:11 left which gave the Panthers a 54-48 lead, their biggest lead of the game. Woodall also hit two free throws with four minutes left which gave Pitt a 51-48 lead. He surpassed 1,000-points for his career at the game.
"Nine guys scored and all ten guys played hard. That was key." Dixon said. "We're not making a lot of three's but were taking good shots."
Dixon now has won at least 20 games in each of the ten years he has been head coach at Pitt. The Panthers have a bye week and will face Marquette at home next Saturday.
For more info: Pitt web site