No. 10 Pitt escapes with slim win over Rider
Jamie Dixon repeated the same refrain about a half-dozen times during Sunday's post-game news conference.
The words weren't identical, but the message was sustained.
"We have a lot of work to do," the Pitt coach said.
The No. 10 Panthers escaped with an 86-78 victory over Rider at Petersen Events Center in which they looked more like a youthful early-season team than a national power.
"It wasn't our best performance," said senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who scored a game-high 24 points. "But we got through it."
Pitt trailed hot-shooting Rider (0-2) — a short-handed team coming off a 26-point loss Friday at Robert Morris — 61-55, with less than 12 minutes to play and needed some late defensive stops and clutch baskets to avoid its most stunning home loss in more than a decade. Robinson added 22 points, and Woodall had 17 points and 10 assists for his second consecutive double-double.
"We came here to win," Rider coach Tommy Dempsey said. "We were embarrassed with how we played on Friday night."
The Panthers entered the game with 57 consecutive wins — and 107 of 108 — against nonconference opponents at home, falling only to Bucknell, 69-66, on Jan. 2, 2005. Down, 73-72, with five minutes to play, the Panthers (2-0) used a 7-0 run, sparked by Dante Taylor's basket, Tray Woodall's 3-pointer and Nasir Robinson's put-back, to take the lead for good at 79-73.
Rider (0-2) cut its deficit to 79-76 on a 3-pointer by Anthony Myles, who scored a team-high 20 points, but Gibbs answered with a 3-pointer — his sixth on 14 tries — to give Pitt an 83-78 lead.
The Panthers, who held Rider to two field goals in the final 5:12, made four free throws in the final 47 seconds to seal the win in the Philly HoopGroup Classic opener.
Pitt attempted 34 3-pointers against Rider's zone — making 12 — while taking just 28 shots inside the arc. It equaled the most 3-pointers attempted in a game during Dixon's eight-plus seasons.
"Way too many 3s," he said. "We've never had a percentage like that."
Rider has posted victories over Southern Cal, Mississippi State, Penn State and Rutgers in recent seasons, yet the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference squad wasn't expected to challenge Pitt — especially after getting waxed, 83-57, by Robert Morris.
But Pitt, playing in front of 45 former Panthers greats such as DeJuan Blair, Don Hennon and Sam Clancy, frittered away an early 14-point lead and allowed its most points (45) in one half in nearly five years.
Rider, using only six players, shot 53 percent, turned the ball over only five times and matched the bigger Panthers with 32 points in the paint. When Pitt's big men tried to defend on the perimeter, Rider's smaller, quicker forwards went around them. When Pitt switched, Rider took advantage of mismatches under the basket.
"We had to spread them out," Dempsey said. "We got their bigs chasing a little bit. They were really struggling with our action, so they started to switch everything. Then, we were able to get it inside against their guards."
Pitt changed up its defense at the eight-minute timeout and allowed only five baskets the rest of the way.
"We made some adjustments — I won't tell you what they were — at the eight-minute timeout," Dixon said. "I finally got a little bit smarter. We got it turned a little bit."