Hot-shooting Pitt beats DePaul, secures double bye in Big East Tournament
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Pitt saved its best shots for its last Big East regular-season game and left league play in record fashion.
The No. 20 Panthers, who will join the ACC this fall, set school and Big East records for field-goal percentage by shooting 71.7 percent from the field in an 81-66 victory over DePaul on Saturday afternoon at Allstate Arena.
Then they got even better news.
Pitt (24-7, 12-6), which finished with four consecutive victories, earned the No. 4 seed and a double bye in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, thanks to losses by Syracuse at Georgetown and Notre Dame at Louisville.
Pitt will play at 2 p.m. Thursday against either No. 5 Syracuse or the winner of Tuesday's Seton Hall-South Florida game.
The Panthers made 33 of 46 shots from the field, including 9 of 14 3-point attempts, to break the Big East mark of 71.4 percent.
That was most recently tied by Syracuse, which made 46 of 63 in a 107-59 victory over DePaul on March 5, 2011. It also broke the school record of 70.8 percent (34 of 48) the Panthers set in the season opener against Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 9.
“It was a good way to finish for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We knew that they would continue to come at us all game long, but I can't complain about our shot selection. We took good shots all game long, and I'm real happy with how unselfish we were.”
That included a perfect performance from J.J. Moore. The 6-foot-6 junior forward made all eight attempts, including five 3-pointers, and tied a career high with 21 points.
“I think guys noticed it before the game started, he was shooting so well in pregame,” said Pitt fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall, who added 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting.
“When he came out firing like that, knocking down shots, once you move the ball around and you're the hot hand, the ball will eventually find you. He did a good job of taking the open shot, and he knocked them down. They kept leaving him open, and he stayed consistent with his shot and had a great game.”
The Panthers got off to a 9-0 start, sparked by the return of 7-foot freshman center Steven Adams to the starting lineup after missing the Villanova game with an ankle sprain. Adams scored six of his eight points in the first 3:31. But Pitt quickly realized this wasn't going to be a reprisal of its 93-55 victory over DePaul on Jan. 26.
DePaul (11-20, 2-16) rallied behind the play of senior point guard Worrel Clahar, who tied his career high with 19 points, and junior guard Brandon Young, who scored a game-high 22. But the Blue Demons couldn't keep up with Pitt, which shot 76 percent (19 of 25) from the field, including 83.3 percent (5 of 6) from 3-point range, in the first half.
“I felt good at halftime. They were shooting in the 70s, and we were only down by 11,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “I felt really good. My goodness, they're definitely going to cool off.'
“Well, they didn't cool off much. And we didn't do enough to make them cool off, even though we made some runs to get it to within seven or whatever. We just weren't going to outscore them with them scoring at that clip.”