The Pitt men’s basketball team started the Big East season with a seven-game losing streak,… The Pitt men’s basketball team started the Big East season with a seven-game losing streak, but with point guard Travon Woodall healthy and back on the floor, the Panthers have now won four straight games.
Woodall’s career-high 29-point effort led the Panthers to a 79-70 victory over Villanova at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, and his teammates seem to know what a difference he makes.
“It’s great to have Tray back,” shooting guard Ashton Gibbs — who added 25 points of his own against the Wildcats — said with a smile.
Pitt was unable to penetrate the Villanova defense early, turning the ball over seven times in the first 12 minutes, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 19-14 lead after guard James Bell drained back-to-back 3-pointers.
To recover from Villanova’s run, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon took the Panthers’ first timeout with eight minutes to go in the first half, and Pitt’s offense began to roll due to solid outside shooting from its two starting guards.
“Gibbs and Woodall controlled the entire game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “There was nothing we could do about it. They’re just great.”
With Pitt trailing 21-16 and 7:04 left in the half, Woodall — who hit all 12 of his free throw attempts — made two consecutive 3-pointers to give the Panthers a 22-21 lead that they didn’t give up for the remainder of the game.
Fueled by the momentum, Gibbs scored 11 points in the first half after the timeout. He hit a pair of 3-pointers to give him the all-time Pitt career mark in 3-point field goals attempted with 349.
Gibbs’ lone assist in the game was sent down low to Dante Taylor, who slammed it down on a 3-point play with 2:19 left in the half. The play highlighted Pitt’s 22-2 first-half run and extended the Panthers’ lead to 15 points, 38-23.
Taylor followed up a strong performance against West Virginia with nine points and five rebounds.
Pitt’s lead grew as high as 17 points early in the second half, but Maalik Wayns responded by leading a 9-0 Wildcats scoring run that trimmed Pitt’s 45-28 advantage to 49-40.
Villanova began chipping its way back into the game, coming within three points with less than a minute to play. The Panthers 27-of-31 performance at the foul line helped them keep the lead.
“We lost a lot of games due to free throws.” Gibbs said. “It’s all about guys getting in the gym and bringing it to the game.”
Dixon added that free throw success often stems from getting the best foul shooters to the line. Gibbs and Woodall combined to shoot a perfect 19-19.
Although Wayns ended the game with 18 points on 22 field goal attempts, it wasn’t enough to brush off the Panthers’ consistent scoring. Wayns missed an open chance to tie the game beyond the arc with less than thirty seconds remaining.
“We wanted to keep him off the line,” Dixon said of Wayns’ scoring ability. “For the most part, we guarded him very well.”
Woodall’s lay-up off a full court heave from Nasir Robinson with 20 seconds remaining sealed the victory for Pitt.
The Wildcats will hope for a rebound performance as they head back home to face Providence at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Pitt will look to continue its winning streak as the Panthers go on the road to face South Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday.