The Pitt men’s basketball team came back from an early and consistent deficit to claim its first victory of the season with a 70-62 victory over the University of California, Santa Barbara Gauchos.
Pitt (1-2) played its second game in the 11th annual Progressive Legends Classic Wednesday night against UCSB(1-1).
The Panthers entered the matchup with an empty win column after losing their opening game to Navy and their first game of the Classic to Montana. UCSB arrived with the opposite stat, having recently defeated North Dakota State 85-66.
“After those first few losses, in practice it was just hard work and just a focus with everybody paying attention,” junior guard/forward Jared Wilson-Frame said. “It was definitely a relief to get this win.”
UCSB started the game firing from the three, taking the lead from its first shot, 3-2. The Gauchos put the Panthers in a deficit for the remainder of the first half.
Pitt struggled to defend UCSB from deep, allowing the Gauchos to start the game 6-10 from the arc. By the end of the half, UCSB was 8-15 from the three. Pitt was unable to keep up, shooting only 4-10 from three in the first half.
The Panthers kept themselves in the game thanks to a hot start from redshirt senior guard Jonathan Milligan. Milligan started the game 3-4 from the field and led the Panthers in the first half with eight points.
The Gauchos eventually racked up their largest lead of the game when they pulled ahead by 10 points. UCSB held this lead for only 43 seconds before Wilson-Frame cut the deficit with a layup to make the game 37-29.
Aside from Milligan and a thunderous dunk from first-year forward Shamiel Stevenson, with about two minutes left in the first, Pitt didn’t have much to celebrate. The offense struggled to keep up with the Gauchos’ scoring, and the defense continued to leave shooters open on the perimeter.
Along with their inability to defend the Gauchos from deep, the Panthers struggled with several turnovers throughout the first half. Pitt had seven turnovers in the first half compared to UCSB’s four.
The first half ended with a 3-pointer from Ryan Luther that brought Pitt within six points. At half time, UCSB led Pitt 38-32.
Pitt’s big men specifically had trouble hanging onto the ball as first-year center Peace Ilegomah had two turnovers in just two minutes of play in the first half. Senior forward Ryan Luther and first-year center Terrell Brown each added a turnover.
The Panthers went on a four-minute, 11-point comeback to start the second half, with Wilson-Frame scoring seven of those points. Pitt charged back, taking a 46-45 lead with a little more than 14 minutes remaining in the second half — the Panthers’ first lead since the 2-0 advantage they held after the first possession of the game.
“[Assistant coach Dan Cage] challenged us at halftime to be the aggressors and compete,” Milligan said. “Maybe like five minutes into the second half I felt like, ‘Okay, we need to turn it up a little,’ and that’s what we did.”
The offensive surge from Wilson-Frame, paired with steady scoring from Milligan, wasn’t enough to pull away from the Gauchos, though. UCSB continued to compete with the Panthers because of their significant rebounding power in the second half. UC Santa Barbara senior forward Jalen Canty was a force for the Gauchos, recording two blocks and frustrating the Panthers in the paint all night.
The Panthers consistently gave up second chance opportunities to the Gauchos, surrendering 19 offensive rebounds and being outrebounded 43-35 for the game. Canty led the Gauchos with 11 rebounds, including six offensive boards. The rebounding struggles nullified the Panthers’ improved defense, which held UCSB to 23.5 percent shooting in the second half.
The game stayed close throughout the second half, with the Gauchos and Panthers trading the lead nine times. Every time Pitt gained momentum the Gauchos nullified it quickly.
It was a Luther tip-in with 2:37 remaining that put the Panthers up for good in the end. Luther’s bucket gave Pitt a 58-57 lead, pushing the team to follow up. Pitt capitalized on this momentum and strung together a 14-5 run. With just enough points to overshadow the Gauchos, the Panthers came back to end the night with a 70-62 victory.
“Ryan made two huge plays at the end of the game,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “Ryan is the glue and the leader of our team. I wish he thought he was as good as I think he is.”
The Panthers will travel to Brooklyn to take on Penn State in their second game of the tournament Monday, Nov. 20, with tip set for 9:30 p.m.