Basketball: Panthers fall apart, lose fifth straight

By Lauren Kirschman

For the first time in his coaching career, Jamie Dixon can’t seem to find an answer.

The… For the first time in his coaching career, Jamie Dixon can’t seem to find the answer.

The Pitt men’s basketball team lost its fifth consecutive game on Wednesday night to extend the Panthers’ longest losing streak under Coach Dixon.

Before this season, Dixon had never lost four games in a row. But with the 62-39 loss to Rutgers (10-7, 2-2 Big East) at the Petersen Events Center, the Panthers (11-6, 0-4 Big East) extended their losing skid and remained winless in the Big East.

The 39-point final tally in the Panthers’ fourth home loss of the season marked the lowest number of points Pitt men’s basketball (11-6, 0-4 Big East) has scored in the Dixon era. It was also the fewest points scored by Pitt since December 1973 and the fewest by the Panthers ever in a Big East game.

“Our guys are extremely disappointed, very disappointed,” Dixon said. “The locker room was silent.”

Rutgers forward Dane Miller said he could tell before the game that his team was in the right frame of mind to earn the win.

“We could kind of tell during warm-ups that we were locked in and really focused to win the game,” Miller said. “[During] the first four minutes of the game, we saw that we were out-hustling them the whole time.”

The Panthers made only four field goals in the first half, shooting 12.5 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from beyond the arc. With the game tied 14-14 with 8:12 remaining in the first half, the Scarlet Knights went on a 16-5 run to build a 30-19 lead before the break.

They never looked back, and it appeared like Pitt stopped trying to catch them.

“We just got to want it more,” Pitt senior Ashton Gibbs said. “Me and Nas [Nasir Robinson] as leaders, we got to step up and let everybody follow our lead … It starts with us, and we just have to keep it going from here.”

It didn’t get much better in the second half as Rutgers started on a 17-7 run to extend its lead to 47-26 with 9:44 remaining.

Pitt shot 21 percent during the game and made just 12 total field goals, struggling even with layups.

“We’ve been emphasizing that in practice, making layups and stuff,” sophomore J.J. Moore said. “We get down on ourselves and we start taking it out on each other and that’s one thing that we have to stop doing.”

Since losing starting point guard Travon Woodall to an abdominal tear and groin strain, the Panthers’ offense has been stagnant. Dixon said Woodall has been shooting and warming up, but is not near being up to competing in a game.

The defensive problems that have plagued Pitt this season don’t seem to be going away, either. The Scarlet Knights were able to consistently drive past the Panther guards and into the lane.

In contrast, even when the Panthers could penetrate the Rutgers offense, they often turned the ball over. The Scarlet Knights scored 17 points off 15 Panther mistakes.

“They just played good defense as well,” Gibbs said. “Their guards played really good defense. The times we did get in the paint, usually we got deflected passes and turnovers.”

Gibbs said former Pitt assistant Mike Rice knew several of the Panthers’ offensive plays. Rice agreed.

“We run half of what they run, to be honest with you,” Rice said. “They are good plays, they are good sets. Our switching defenses doesn’t allow Ashton to get open and get looks.”

Except for Nasir Robinson, who scored seven points and grabbed nine rebounds, the Pitt frontcourt all but disappeared. Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor combined for just six points and five rebounds.

J.J. Moore was the only Panther in double figures, with 10 points.

Rutgers outscored Pitt in the paint 32-14 and also scored more second-chance points, 22-10. The Panthers’ even struggled on the boards, getting out-rebounded 51-35.

Rice said he expects the Panther program to right itself.

“Everybody in college basketball goes through this,” Rice said. “I told somebody on the radio today that it’s going to work itself out. It always does when you have a great coach and good players.”

The Panthers will attempt to start their recovery process at Marquette on Saturday.