Small proves big for Pitt in win over EKU
Pitt played its three shortest players at the same time against Eastern Kentucky — and still tied a school record for blocked shots.
The Panthers switched to a three-guard offense late in the first half and used the diminutive lineup to pull away from Eastern Kentucky en route to a 71-60 victory Thursday night at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt (3-0) played guards Travon Woodall, Ashton Gibbs and Chase Adams simultaneously for the first time this season. The plan worked against the Ohio Valley Conference school, as the trio was on the floor for the majority of game-altering 11-0 run to end the first half.
"That small lineup did bother us," Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer said, "but I made mistakes personnel-wise as well."
Pitt ended the first half with 11 straight points, holding Eastern Kentucky scoreless over the final 6:57 to take a 39-24 lead into the break.
Pitt's big men also chipped in, as the Panthers outrebounded Eastern Kentucky, 47-25, and blocked 12 shots, equaling a school record set against St. Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 1, 1993.
Centers Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor each had four blocks, and Woodall, a 5-foot-11 guard, had two.
Two days after scoring a career-high 22 points against Binghamton, Gibbs scored a team-high 20 points to lead the Panthers.
Nasir Robinson added 15 points, and freshman Lamar Patterson had 10 points off the bench. Taylor grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, and Brad Wanamaker matched his career-high with eight rebounds.
Junior guard Justin Stommes scored a game-high 24 points to lead Eastern Kentucky (1-1). Brentwood High School graduate Josh Taylor scored 11 points on 4 of 10 shooting
"Obviously, it was exciting for me to come home and play in front of my family and friends," Josh Taylor said. "We played hard, but we've got to come out and shoot better."
The Panthers, who never trailed, switched to a pint-sized lineup with 5:30 to play in the first half. Foul trouble by Wanamaker and Robinson, combined with Eastern Kentucky's 1-3-1 zone, prompted coach Jamie Dixon to go small against the Colonel's taller sharpshooters, including the 6-6 Taylor and 6-7 Stommes.
The 6-2 Gibbs and two sub-6-footers, Woodall and Adams, joined 6-5 freshman Lamar Patterson, playing power forward for the first time, and 6-9 freshman center Dante Taylor in the lineup.
"My biggest concern was guarding their big shooters," Dixon said. "We wanted to have quickness guarding them and not have our big guys chasing them. We wanted to keep smaller guys on them."
The Panthers led, 30-24, at the time. Over the final five minutes of the first half, Gibbs scored seven points during the 11-0 run, and Pitt's undersized defense held Eastern Kentucky to 0 for 9 from the field in the final 7:35 of the first half. Pitt led, 39-24, at halftime.
"If we lock them down on defense," Gibbs said, "(Coach Dixon) will let any combination play."
Eastern Kentucky pulled to within 45-35 with 13:24 to play in the second half, but the Panthers answered with a 10-2 run for a 55-37 lead on Robinson's layup with 10:29 to play. The Colonels made it 59-48 on a pair of Stommes 3-pointers with 7:51 to play, but Pitt scored the next five points and led by double-digits until the final minute.
Eastern Kentucky, picked to finish fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference, used a series of backdoor cuts and 3-point shots to stick with Pitt for much of the first half. The Colonels trailed, 14-12, midway through the first half and used back-to-back 3-pointers from Stommes and Taylor to pull to within 25-22 with 7:35 to play in the first half. Pitt went with the smallish lineup and Eastern Kentucky scored two points - both free throws - the rest of the first half.
"Pitt is a great defensive team," Neubauer said. "That's why they've been dominant for the last decade."