Pitt suffers 1st loss in setback to Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden
NEW YORK — Pitt and Cincinnati didn't so much as play basketball Tuesday night as they did set the sport back to a bygone era at Madison Square Garden.
The former conference foes played a slow-paced, physical style reminiscent of the old Big East, before the league breakup that saw Pitt leave for the ACC and Cincinnati join the newly formed American Athletic Conference.
The Bearcats won the battle of the blah, as Titus Rubles scored a layup with 4.2 seconds left to beat Pitt, 44-43, in the Jimmy V Classic.
“We're disappointed, to put it mildly, and did not deserve to win,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn't play well the whole game. Give them credit.”
It was the first loss of the season for Pitt (10-1), which entered the game averaging 82.6 points but scored a season low by taking the fewest field-goal attempts (35) in the Dixon era.
The Panthers were attempting to make a case to crack the national rankings, as they were one of 15 undefeated teams. But they did just the opposite, putting on their worst offensive performance of the season.
Mostly, however, Pitt lost because of missed free throws. The Panthers were 19 of 29 from the line to Cincinnati's 1 of 3 — an almost unheard-of advantage — but Talib Zanna went 3 for 6 in the final 4:11 and Lamar Patterson missed two with a 43-42 lead and 21.7 seconds left.
“I feel like I lost the game for us,” said Patterson, a fifth-year senior who finished with 11 points. “Not only did I miss one but both of them. I'll definitely take that one on the chin.”
Cameron Wright, who missed a desperation heave at the buzzer, came to Patterson's defense.
“It wasn't Lamar's fault,” Wright said. “You don't lose the game on one possession or two free throws. It all adds up. As a team we didn't play that great.”
The Panthers shot 31.4 percent (11 of 35) from the field, were beaten on the boards 35-27 while allowing Cincinnati 16 offensive rebounds. The Bearcats (8-2) scored 30 points in the paint, 16 on second chances.
“It's hard to believe we can get outrebounded that badly,” Dixon said. “We just didn't play well. We didn't rebound well and our offense was not what we needed it to be.”
The Bearcats scored all 20 of their first-half points in the paint, half of them on second chances. Cincinnati forward Justin Jackson (12 points, nine rebounds) gave Pitt fits inside, making all five of his shots in scoring 10 first-half points.
“They were more physical,” Patterson said. “We knew it coming in. We just didn't throw the punches back like we were supposed to. The numbers show it.”
It was a point of emphasis for Cincinnati, which was coming off back-to-back losses at New Mexico on Dec. 7 and to crosstown rival Xavier on Saturday.
“Our guys were so upset about what happened Saturday night that we had guys that couldn't eat,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “I was more of a psychologist than a coach.”
Cincinnati held Pitt without a field goal for a span of 13:47 in the second half, from Zanna's dunk for a 30-25 lead at the 14:54 mark to Wright's steal and driving layup for a 43-42 edge with 1:07 remaining.
When Patterson missed the two free throws, Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick drove to the basket but missed a runner. Jackson tipped it to Rubles, who made the game-winning layup.
“If it wasn't for Justin Jackson, it wouldn't be possible,” Rubles said. “He's the one who made it possible to tip it to me. It was pretty much a layup. I'm glad it went in.”