Behind Taylor, Pitt pounds USF, 64-44
Dante Taylor hadn't been in double figures in scoring or rebounding since mid-December, so the Pitt backup center was thrilled to double his pleasure against South Florida.
Taylor finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds — his first double-double of the season — to lead No. 23 Pitt to a 64-44 victory over USF on Wednesday night in a Big East game at Petersen Events Center.
“It feels real good,” Taylor said. “I've been working hard the last few weeks in practice, so I just tried to carry it over into these last few games. Especially to get that one, this being the second-to-last home game, I just tried to come out and play hard.”
It was the third time this season Taylor has scored in double figures but the first in 19 games, since a 16-point effort against North Florida on Dec. 8, and his first double-double of the season. Taylor was averaging 4.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 15.6 minutes.
“Yeah, I don't know what that is,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “I was certainly hoping he'd get his four or five points a game and that was it. He had a good game. He's a senior, and I'm sure he wants to finish his career on a high note, and that's got to be pretty encouraging for Pitt to see that light bulb come on and have him turn on at the end of the year.
“That gives them a nice little plus on that front line.”
It was also a double-double for the Panthers (22-7, 10-6), who reached double-digit wins in conference play for the 11th time in 12 seasons and won their second consecutive game by more than 10 points. They beat St. John's by 16 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The loss was the 10th consecutive for USF (10-17, 1-14). It also marked the fifth time Pitt has held a Big East opponent to fewer than 50 points this season. That includes their next opponent, Villanova, which visits Sunday in the final home game of the season.
Under orders from Pitt coach Jamie Dixon to play a freelancing style, the Panthers shot 41.7 percent (20 of 48) from the field, including 59.1 percent (13 of 22) in the second half. They also held a decisive rebounding edge, 42-25, and benefited from 7-foot freshman center Steven Adams' career-high five blocked shots. The Bulls shot 31.9 percent (15 of 47) from the field, including 6 of 23 in the second half, when they were 0 for 5 from 3-point range.
USF actually led by as many as eight points in the first half after a 7-0 run capped by Anthony Collins' alley-oop pass to Jawanza Poland for a reverse dunk made it 14-6 at 12:39. But Collins, who torched Pitt for 22 points in a 56-47 victory at the Pete last year, was scoreless until sinking two free throws with 5:41 remaining and didn't make a field goal until the 3:39 mark. He finished 2 of 8 for six points.
“Our team got off to a good start, but we couldn't sustain it,” Heath said. “It seemed like we had a hard time finishing a lot of plays, making some layups or short shots and just couldn't get anything going.
“They made some nice adjustments to bottle up the lane, and their size and physicality create some problems, too.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-9 senior, was the catalyst in Pitt's comeback, giving the Panthers their first lead on a tip-in at 6:37 of the first half to start an 8-0 run.
Pitt took a 26-25 lead into halftime but saw it evaporate early in the second half when Zanna tipped in a Victor Rudd shot at 16:04. Pitt answered with a 16-0 run — Taylor scored four pivotal points — for a 44-30 advantage.
“That's one of our senior leaders,” said Pitt fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall, who scored a team-high 14 points. “A lot of his baskets were in great moments, great spurts, which we needed — and I'm sure he knew that. He played as hard and he picked guys up. That was great to see.”