The Petersen Events Center was full of kids from surrounding schools ready to watch an exciting game between the Pitt women’s basketball team and Cornell Monday in the ninth annual School Day game. But they instead watched a low-scoring game the Panthers nearly lost.
The Panthers (2-0) etched out a 51-39 win over the Big Red (0-2), with the teams close for most of the game until Pitt pulled away at the end. Both teams had poor shooting days, with Pitt shooting 35 percent and Cornell shooting 24 percent from the field.
“I thought we came out to a good start, scored the first seven points,” head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “Then for some reason the basket got smaller and smaller, and we became tentative and hesitant in taking shots, even if they were wide open looks.”
Redshirt junior forward Yacine Diop quickly got the game going, scoring a layup and a 3-point shot. Junior center Kalista Walters then added a layup, helping Pitt to an early 7-0 lead.
Cornell sophomore guard Danielle Jorgenson was subbed out after turning the ball over three times in less than two minutes. First-year guard Kate Sramac entered the game and stopped Pitt’s run by scoring four points and grabbing two rebounds. Senior forward Christine Ehland also started off well, adding another four points and giving the Big Red an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout.
Ehland put up four more points — giving her a total of eight — before the quarter ended. Neither team had much scoring success, with Pitt shooting 5-13 from the floor and Cornell shooting 4-13.
Pitt junior forward Danielle Garven recorded her first points of the game to start the second quarter and sophomore guard Alayna Gribble also added to the score when she hit a layup. Garven and Gribble scored the only points in the second quarter for the Panthers.
Cornell senior guard Janee Dennis hit a three to make the score 17-14. The remaining 4:11 of the second quarter was scoreless.
While both teams had a hard time scoring in the first quarter, the second was even more difficult. Pitt shot 2-12 in the second quarter and the Big Red shot 1-11 from the field. Pitt also faltered at the arc, shooting 1-9 in the first half.
With the low scoring, both teams had high rebound totals — 20 for Cornell and 19 for Pitt to end the first half. Diop led the Panthers with six and Garven had four, while first-year forward Elodie Furey and Ehland recorded six each for the Big Red.
Neither team found success during the first few minutes of the third quarter, leading Cornell to call a time-out three minutes in. Cornell then scored two points after Gribble fouled Jorgenson and she went to the line for two foul shots.
Walters hit a layup to get the Panthers on board for the second half, and Gribble added two big threes to give the Panthers a 22-20 with 4:35 left in the third quarter. First-year guard Kyla Nelson hit a three as well for the Panthers, scoring her first points of the game.
“When you have a lead and then you lose it, you kind of get down on yourself,” Walters said. “I think hearing the kids cheer for us … really helped us and motivated us to do better.”
Cornell had only one bucket in the third quarter with a layup from sophomore guard Samantha Widmann. Pitt and Cornell were tied 25-25 at the end of the third quarter.
Both Diop and Nelson got the fourth quarter started with baskets, giving the Panthers the lead, but the Big Red responded with solid shooting from the free throw line to keep the score 31-28 to the Panthers with 5:55 to go in the fourth.
“We kept pushing,” Diop said. “We just needed to take a deep breath and just play free with no pressure at all. We just did some of our hustle plays and we just ended up playing really well.”
After the time-out, Diop knocked down a jumper then followed with a steal, dropping a nice pass to Jasmine Whitney. Whitney was fouled as she hit the basket, adding to the score with a foul shot. Pitt had three more buckets from Walters, Garven and Whitney to make the game 46-33.
Cornell stepped up its scoring but wasn’t able to make a comeback, giving the Panthers a 51-39 victory.
“It’s one game at a time and [Duquesne is] the next opponent on our schedule,” McConnell-Serio said. “That’s the way we’ll prepare for them, the same way we prepared for the previous two teams and the next teams.”
Pitt will take on Duquesne Thursday, Nov. 16, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. in the Petersen Events Center.