Wagner stuns Pitt at the Pete
Pitt's 59-54 loss to Wagner on Friday night at Petersen Events Center soon will be forgotten amidst the massive Big East schedule that begins Tuesday at Notre Dame.
The Panthers (11-2) will have many games with league teams that will more accurately define this season.
But the loss to Wagner proved this much: Pitt needs point guard Tray Woodall to steer its offense through choppy waters, and the sea was unsettled at the Pete almost from start to finish.
"Tray is our leader on the court," forward Lamar Patterson said. "He calms us down out there."
With senior Ashton Gibbs playing point guard while Woodall missed his sixth consecutive game with a groin injury, Pitt committed 18 turnovers -- including three in a row near the end, when the Panthers tried to rally from a four-point deficit.
Pitt also shot 39.6 percent from the field, missing 29 of 48 attempts.
"Numbers don't lie," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose team became the first ranked opponent to lose to Wagner since 1978 (Alabama). "We didn't make shots. We didn't make 3s (2 of 15). We didn't make free throws (14 of 23). It was hard to watch for me."
The game broke Pitt's nine-game winning streak, and it was the Panthers' first loss to a Northeast Conference team in 71 games all-time.
Also, it marked Pitt's second nonconference loss of the season -- Long Beach State was the first Nov. 16. Pitt never had lost two games outside the Big East at the Pete in a single season in the building's 10-year existence.
"I have to do a better job of getting these guys ready to go," said Dixon, who questioned his use of Gibbs for 37 of the game's 40 minutes. "I should have played our guards more minutes and rotated more guys in there."
Gibbs was scoreless in the first half but ended up leading all Pitt scorers with 14 points. None of his teammates reached double-figure scoring.
Wagner (8-3) led, 29-25, at halftime, but it dominated play early in the second half and took a 44-32 with 11:52 remaining on a 3-point basket by reserve guard Chris Martin.
Pitt started to crawl back thanks to two baskets by Nasir Robinson and a steal and a layup by Gibbs that trimmed the lead to 44-38 with 8:53 left.
The basket inspired the crowd and raised the volume in the Pete. Then, Gibbs hit a 3-pointer, a foul shot and a layup in a one-minute span. At the same time, Wagner couldn't score with any regularity, and its lead dwindled to 49-46 with two minutes left.
Pitt could get no closer.
Dixon said he doesn't know when Woodall will return, although he has sounded more optimistic in recent days than he did last night.
"We thought it was going to be by now, and that's not the case obviously," Dixon said. "We'll see going forward and what it looks like (today). It's going to be his call and how he feels. We need to play as if he's not here."