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No. 5 Pitt shoots down Marquette

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By John Grupp
Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

No. 5 Pitt showed Saturday how one more pass can usually equal two or three more points.

The Panthers put on a display of ball movement and patience against Marquette in a matchup of two of the Big East's highest-scoring teams.

Pitt (15-1, 3-0) conducted its offense with clinical precision, providing another reason why the Panthers are among the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to getting the most out of each possession.

"We're good," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We shoot the ball better maybe than any team that we've had."

Pitt rarely missed at Petersen Events Center, rolling to an 89-81 victory over Marquette (11-5, 2-1) with a fluid, potent offensive attack.

The Panthers shot a season-high 60 percent from the field. They went 8 for 12 from 3-point range in the first half, building a lead they would never relinquish, and finished a season-best 56 percent (10 for 18) from behind the arc. They had 24 assists — against only 10 turnovers — on 30 baskets.

"Offensively, you can't be any more efficient than that," Dixon said.

Pitt scored only four fast-break points all game. Rather, the Panthers used their half-court offense to near perfection. The result was wide-open, barely contested perimeter shots. Five different Pitt players hit 3-pointers, including five from Ashton Gibbs, who scored a team-high 19 points.

"They run more plays than anyone in the country," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "They run a play after every dead ball, they run a play after every made basket. That's what they are going to do. They are going to run a play. We never ran them off their line."

According to one matrix, Pitt is the No. 2 team in the nation in offensive efficiency, trailing only undefeated Duke. The Panthers were 40th in offensive efficiency last season, its worst finish in at least eight years. This season, they have few equals. They are getting an offensive rebound on 47 percent of their missed shots, tops in the land. They lead the nation in assists per game.

All that is helping Pitt average 81.2 points per game. While there is a long way to go, it would be the Panthers' highest scoring average in two decades and fifth best in the program's history.

"It's just the balance of this team," said Brad Wanamaker, who chipped in 14 points, six assists and five rebounds. "Everybody gets it going at one point in the game. As long as we play unselfish, anybody can be scoring and that's why we score a lot of points."

Gibbs hit his first of four first-half 3-pointers 19 seconds into the game, and Pitt never slowed down. With the score tied 26-all, Pitt went on a 22-6 run, taking a 48-32 lead on Dante Taylor's tip-in with 1:15 to play in the first half.

One play during the run exemplified Pitt's potent half-court attack. With the Panthers clinging to a 29-26 lead, Gilbert Brown had an open look at the basket from the top of the key. Instead of shooting, he quickly swung the ball to Gibbs, who also had an open look. Gibbs, showing patience, made another pass to Wanamaker in the left corner. Wanamaker, with no Marquette player near him, nailed the 3 for a 32-26 Pitt lead.

The performance, Pitt's highest-scoring Big East non-overtime game in nearly two years, came five days after the Panthers had a season-high 23 turnovers against Providence.

"Coach Dixon stressed being patient and moving without the ball," Gibbs said.

Pitt led, 48-37, at halftime and built the edge to as many as 15 points in the second half. Marquette pulled to within 74-66 on Jimmy Butler's basket with 6:15 to play, but Nasir Robinson scored on a driving layup and Pitt led by at least eight points the rest of the way.

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