Pitt teaches Fairleigh Dickinson a lesson on School Day, 69-60


Carolyn Pallof | Staff Photographer

Amber Brown (5) led Pitt with 11 rebounds while contributing 12 points in a 60-52 loss to Notre Dame.

By Ben Bobeck, Senior Staff Writer

Class was in session for Pitt women’s basketball Tuesday morning in front of a School Day crowd of 6,730 at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers didn’t let those in attendance down, beating the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights 69-60.

The unusually raucous crowd was bolstered by school children from 58 local schools, who made up the majority of the 6,730 fans in attendance for the 11 a.m. tip off.

Speaking postgame, second-year Panther head coach Lance White expressed his appreciation of the annual event and its organizers.

“What a great atmosphere,” White said. “This is my second School Day game here at Pitt, obviously we did one down at Central Florida too, but I just love the energy, the excitement of the game, and to give those kids a chance to experience Pitt, see this awesome facility and get a chance to watch our kids play and perform.”

Graduate point guard Aysia Bugg has been around for a few of these games, and said she looks forward to this promotion each season.
“It’s just a great environment,” Bugg said. “They’re cheering no matter what is going on, so it’s great energy. I’m glad we get to do this every year.”
Pitt responded to the support in kind with a solid performance on both ends of the court to move to 2-2 on the season. 

Fairleigh Dickinson opened the scoring early with back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Lindsey Mack and junior forward Madison Stanley before aggressive play on both ends of the court sent the Panthers on a 14-point run. Over that run, the Knights chucked up eight missed 3-point attempts while failing to record a point.

After a nearly five-minute scoring drought, the Knights responded with consecutive layups from first-year guard Maria Roters and senior guard Elise Graham, with Graham completing a 3-point play to cut the Panthers’ lead to a single possession.

From there, Fairleigh Dickinson turned to their veteran shooters in Graham and sophomore guard Rachel Niles to regain its form from beyond the arc. Niles hit back-to-back threes to put the Knights ahead.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s prolific 3-point shooting was the story of the first half. They pulled up 23 times from deep, knocking down nine throughout the first two quarters of play. With White opting for his preferred defensive look in a 2-3 zone, the Knights’ scorers capitalized on the open space.

Pitt, meanwhile, struggled from deep, attempting seven threes and hitting just one.

The Panthers headed to the locker room being wildly outshot from the field and trailing 38-37. All season long, White has discussed the learning curve for his young team and its impact on first-half performances. Tuesday’s game was no different.

“We’re continuing to learn and grow,” White said. “You have to walk on the court every time you play ready to play your best … Once we prepare, then they have to go out and execute from the time of the jump and throughout.”

The execution and energy from Pitt noticeably improved following the break. The Panthers roared to a hot start in the third quarter with a 10-point run that opened up a nine-point lead. Pitt’s lead wouldn’t dip below four at any point in the second half.

Pitt’s biggest difference maker was the halftime adjustment out of zone defense and into a man-to-man look. They held Fairleigh to just two total 3-pointers, none coming in the fourth quarter. The Panthers also picked up their own offensive production with an improved field goal percentage through each quarter.

White said he wasn’t happy with the execution of the zone in the first half, but praised the quick adjustments his players made.

“We are not going to be good at everything,” he said. “Obviously it’s taken longer on our zone than I would have hoped and thought that we would be better at this point than it is, so we had to get out of zone and go man in the second half. I thought our kids on the fly with little practice did pretty well.”

Pitt thrived on scoring from up and down the bench with Bugg’s 17 points making her the only Panther in double digits. The Panthers added 18 points off the bench.

Pitt dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Knights 48-33 despite deploying a guard-heavy lineup for most of the game. First-year guard Amber Brown led both teams with 12 boards while adding nine points, leaving her one point shy of her third straight double-double as a Panther.

Addressing the media postgame, “the real AB” — as she referred to herself — said her aggressive approach on the glass has always come naturally.

“I just go get the ball off the basket,” Brown said. “If I get it, then my team gets the ball so I just go get it. I like playing fast and getting the ball off the rim, but I like playing and I want my team to win.”

Brown’s performance on the glass was crucial to Pitt’s success, but it presents a new problem to White — managing the first-year guard’s minutes on the court when she’s performing so well. Brown finished second only to Bugg in playing time Tuesday with 34:58.

“[Brown] is relentless, one of the most competitive players on our team, and she earns the minutes she gets,” White said. “I really struggle to get her off the floor and I need her not to have to play that many minutes, because even in those minutes she can’t perform as well as she can in having to extend herself that long.”

While not as heavily attended as some School Day games in the past, Pitt continued its strong record in that promotion, moving to 8-3 all time in School Day games after falling to UCF last season. The Panthers will look to carry momentum through into the City Game this Saturday when they host local rival Duquesne.