Panthers trounce Scarlet Knights, 58-50, in ACC-Big 10 Challenge

Pitt+senior+guard+Jayla+Everett+%2820%29+reaches+to+make+a+basket+at+Wednesday+evening%E2%80%99s+game+against+Rutgers+University+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center.+%0A

Joy Cao | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt senior guard Jayla Everett (20) reaches to make a basket at Wednesday evening’s game against Rutgers University at the Petersen Events Center.

By Will McGlynn, Staff Writer

After an unprecedented 5-2 start to their season, the Panthers took on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Petersen Events Center in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge Wednesday night. Head coach Lance White has stressed the importance of winning the close games they compete in, and Wednesday was a prime example of doing just that.

The women’s basketball team won 58-50 in a tight matchup. The Scarlet Knights pushed the Panthers all the way to the final horn, forcing them to play aggressive defense and calculated offense the entire game.

The Panthers came out with serious intensity forcing the Scarlet Knights into a shot clock violation on their first possession. The Panthers generated more early turnovers using a one-three-one trap defense, forcing Rutgers to make risky passes across the court. This defensive scheme allowed the Panthers to run in transition and take an early lead. 

But the Scarlet Knights quickly adjusted. With some patient lateral ball movement, they were able to find open shots from beyond the arc or spaces to drive. The Scarlet Knights led 15-10 at the end of the first quarter.

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The Panthers switched to a man-to-man defense in the second quarter after having little success with the one-three-one defense late in the first quarter. Senior guard Jayla Everett struggled shooting in the quarter but junior guard Amber Brown stepped up, scoring a key jumper and following that up with an and-one. The Panthers went into the half down 26-23.

The Panthers couldn’t seem to slow down star Rutgers grad student guard Shug Dickson in the first half. Dickson entered the half with eight points, three rebounds and three assists. Dickson carved up the Panther defense, commonly finding open players for easy baskets. But the Panthers turned up the defensive pressure in the second half and held Dickson to just two points.

Needing to find a spark on offense, the Panthers attacked the basket early in the third quarter. Everett scored a short jumper early off a screen. Sophomore guard Liatu King saw lots of success attacking the basket as well, scoring six points in the third quarter.

The Panthers led 40-36 going into the fourth quarter, which featured more of the same with each Panther getting a moment to shine. Junior center Rita Igbokwe pulled down multiple offensive rebounds and scored second-chance points. Igbokwe also sealed the deal for the Panthers when she blocked a Rutgers layup with just 27 seconds remaining. 

The Panthers dominated down-low against the Scarlet Knights, coming up with second-chance points and challenging the Rutgers defense. The Panthers racked up 15 offensive rebounds compared to the seven from Rutgers.

This helped the Panthers draw more fouls and get to the free-throw line. But the Panthers continued to struggle at the free-throw line, missing five straight free throws in the third quarter. White said the Panthers need to execute from the line going forward.

“Our goal is to make more free throws than our opponent attempts,” White said. “Now we need to convert on those chances.”

White continued to use his entire bench and take advantage of the depth the Panthers have this season. This allowed the Panthers to continue to play fast, although this was more of a defensive affair.

King had a great performance, capping off a special night for her and her family. Both of King’s parents are deaf and the Panthers made Wednesday’s game deaf awareness night to raise money for families like King’s. She spoke about growing up with her deaf parents and learning American Sign Language as her first language.

“The win was just the icing on the cake,” King said. “It was really cool to see my teammates learn how to sign their names out.”

King scored an efficient 11 points and played a large role in the second-half comeback.

Everett rejoined the team after not having her in the Paradise Jam tournament, where they went 1-2. Everett said she had some pre-game jitters before the Panther matchup with Rutgers.

“I was honestly really nervous before the game,” Everett said. “I was worried I was going to mess everyone up after not playing in the paradise games.”

Everett scored 18 points in the game despite struggling with her shots.

The senior’s leadership was on full display Wednesday night. The Panthers were in a bit of a hole, down nine during the second quarter and Everett’s shot wasn’t falling. Everett turned up the defensive intensity and upon checking out, was a huge source of energy from the bench.

“If I don’t shoot the ball or keep attacking, nine times out of ten my teammates are going to yell at me,” Everett said. “For me, it’s just reminding myself to stay level-headed.”

Dayshanette Harris also bounced back against the Scarlet Knights, despite having recently dealt with an injury. Harris was still not in the starting lineup but she was a presence on the defensive end, playing aggressive on-ball defense. Harris was also a reliable presence in the backcourt, commonly initiating plays and generating ball movement for the Panthers.

The Panthers face Ball State on the road this Friday and look to build on the success from this win. They also start ACC play next Friday against one of the premier programs in women’s basketball — NC State.

“I’m really just overall really pleased with where we’re at,” White said. “We just got to continue to get better and continue [on] the path that we are on.”