Pitt holds off UConn for tough Big East victory
As its 13-point halftime lead vanished, Pitt found itself in a familiar setting: The Panthers were in another closely contested Big East game at Petersen Events Center, and the outcome depended upon how they played in the final four minutes.
That's when Pitt showed what it has learned from home losses to Cincinnati and Marquette. Led by freshman point guard James Robinson, the Panthers showed patience and poise for a 69-61 victory over Connecticut in the final Big East regular-season meeting between the rivals.
It was the first league win for the Panthers (15-4, 3-3) at the Pete, this one coming one week after an overtime loss to Marquette. Where Pitt needed a last-second 3-pointer to tie that game, the Panthers took control of this one from the outset and didn't let it slip away.
“You like to finish every one,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “But we've lost a few, and when you lose, you remember those ones a little more. (Connecticut) made shots. They made plays to get back and tie it up. But down the stretch I thought we came up with the rebounds. I thought we defended well and hit free throws and got a couple of big jump shots.”
It was the second consecutive defeat for Connecticut (12-5, 2-3), which was coming off a loss to top-ranked Louisville, while the Panthers won their second straight heading into Tuesday's game at Providence.
Pitt has road victories at Georgetown and Villanova, but this was its most complete performance at the Pete in Big East play.
The frontcourt of freshman Steven Adams (nine rebounds, three blocked shots) and senior Dante Taylor (six points, seven rebounds) controlled the paint, as Pitt jumped out to a 35-22 halftime lead. The Panthers held a 23-15 rebounding edge and scored 18 points in the paint, including 14 second-chance points, in the first half.
The Huskies missed on 9 of 11 3-point attempts in the first half but took advantage of Adams being out with four fouls in the second half. UConn shot 57.7 percent (15 of 26), as sophomore guard Ryan Boatright beat Pitt off the dribble to score 16 of his game-high 20 points while freshman Omar Calhoun (14 points) made three 3s.
“They took it to us in the first half. You can't spot a good Pittsburgh team 13 points in the first half,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. “We've got to play for 40 minutes. I thought we played for 20. You can't do that in the Big East.”
The Panthers beat UConn on the boards, 38-27, switched to a zone defense that held the Huskies to 29.2 percent shooting (7 of 24) in the first half and sank 12 of 15 free throws in the second half.
The Huskies rallied behind Boatright, who converted a three-point play to tie it at 58-58 with 4:09 remaining. Robinson, who had 12 points, answered with a 3-pointer to put the Panthers ahead. Taylor made two free throws and a 15-foot jumper in the final 2:47, and Robinson's four free throws in the last 30 seconds sealed it.
“In the games that we lost, we let it go at the end,” said Pitt forward Lamar Patterson, who scored a team-high 14 points and had five assists. “We made a little change and fought through and got the victory.”