No. 11 Purdue presents tall order for Pitt
Pitt faced a top-25 opponent to start the season, playing half a game against Gonzaga that was stopped due to unplayable court conditions.
The Panthers will apply what they learned from that encounter Tuesday night against No. 11 Purdue in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Petersen Events Center. Purdue is the only program from a Power 5 conference on the Panthers' nonconference schedule.
“When you come to college and play basketball, these are the games you want to play in,” said junior Michael Young, who leads the Panthers in scoring and rebounding. “You've got to get up for games like this.”
Purdue, like Gonzaga, features one of the tallest and most talented frontlines in college basketball. The combination of 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-0 A.J. Hammons has powered the Boilermakers to a 6-0 record, including an 85-70 win over Florida on Nov. 22.
Haas and Hammons remind Pitt coach Jamie Dixon of Gonzaga's big man trio featuring 7-1 Przemek Karnowski, 6-11 Domantas Sabonis and 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer.
The undefeated Panthers (4-0) led Gonzaga, ranked No. 13 this week, when their Nov. 13 game was halted at intermission.
“They're among the best in the country, group-wise, if not better,” Dixon said about Purdue. “When we looked at our schedule, we knew we were going to (face) that big 6-10, 6-11 guy that few people have and we have in the past. They have two big guys that know what they're doing inside and out. That's the case with this team, as well as Gonzaga.”
At 6-9, Young will attempt to score inside against Haas and Hammons, who have combined for 25 blocks this season.
“This will definitely be a good matchup,” said Young, who indicated Purdue doesn't play its big men together as frequently as Gonzaga does. “We played against Gonzaga's frontcourt, which is one of the best in the country. We've got another team that's got one of the best frontcourts. I believe my frontcourt is one of the best also.”
Tuesday's game holds special meaning for the Panthers, who understand a victory over Purdue could be just what the program needs.
“It's a really good opportunity for us to show how much better we've gotten,” senior James Robinson said.
Dixon believes every game is important for the Panthers, who have defeated Kent State, Cornell, Detroit and Saint Joseph's (Ind). However, he acknowledges knocking off Purdue would be Pitt's biggest win to date.
“You see all the upsets every week,” Dixon said.
“We've got a really good team coming in, as far as a ranked team, but it doesn't become any more important because we know the repercussions of losing (to Detroit or Kent State) is something we can't overcome.”