Men’s basketball: Panthers use good shooting to beat Marquette

By Isaac Saul

On a typically cold January day in Pittsburgh, Panthers guard Ashton Gibbs and his teammates did… On a typically cold January day in Pittsburgh, Panthers guard Ashton Gibbs and his teammates did their best to heat up the Petersen Events Center with hot shooting.

Gibbs started the game by hitting four consecutive three-pointers from four different spots on the floor.

The early shooting exhibition seemed to immediately throw Marquette off balance, and the Golden Eagles spent the rest of the game chasing Pitt’s offense around the floor before losing 89-81 to the No. 5 Panthers.

Gibbs, who finished with a team-high 19 points, adjusted accordingly when Marquette started showing him some more attention.

At one point in the first half, with Marquette’s coach Buzz Williams screaming to “watch No. 12,” Gibbs gave a hard shot fake on the baseline, drove strong drawing three defenders and then dished to Brad Wanamaker who drilled a wide open three. Marquette simply couldn’t keep track of all of the Panthers’ shooters.

“It started in practice I think,” Gibbs said after the game. “Being patient, coach [Jamie] Dixon stressing to move the ball and use the shot clock, and I think that’s what we did this game, we just need to be consistent with it.”

The Panthers averaged 6.1 3-pointers per game coming into Saturday’s contest; they hit 10 against Marquette.

Along with its shooting, Pitt’s depth has been on display recently, as different players have been stepping up in various games throughout the season. With an 11-man rotation, 10 players are currently averaging at least 10 minutes a game. Of those ten players, nine are averaging five points or better a game.

“I think it’s just the balance of this team,” Wanamaker said after the game. “We have multiple guys who come in and lead us in scoring every game. That carries over to us playing unselfish.”

Wanamaker, who finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds and six assists, was one of four players to score in the double digits on Saturday afternoon for Pitt.

Additionally, Gilbert Brown has been on a bit of a hot streak for the Panthers recently. Coming into Saturday’s game, Brown was averaging 16.6 points a game over the previous five contests, while shooting 58.8 percent from the field and a gaudy 61.9 percent from 3-point range.

Saturday, he continued the trend by going 2 for 3 from 3-point range and 3 for 6 from the field on his way to 14 points.

“We just shared the ball shooting and it was an all-around effort,” Wanamaker said. “We got everyone contributing.”

Late in the game, Pitt had two consecutive defensive possessions that ended with blocks. The second block, by Gary McGhee, just about sealed the deal for the Panthers. McGhee had been playing well all night, with an impressive 5 for 5 shooting from the field.

Recently, McGhee’s hard work off the court has been paying off as Panther fans are beginning to see an improvement in his offensive game.

“The last couple games have given me a lot of confidence to keep working and getting better,” McGhee said after the game. “When I get the ball down low I’m just trying to go up strong and finish it.”

Dixon wasn’t shy about praising McGhee either, who finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

“One thing you can’t question is Gary McGhee’s work ethic,” Dixon said after the game. “Just this last week we’ve seen him finishing better, he works relentlessly on his free throws and his defense has been very good.”

Although the Panthers’ roots have traditionally been in their defensive ability, their offense is starting to garner attention. The Panthers seldom won games last year by scoring more than 80 points; usually they did it with their defense.

This year, however, the Panthers have three natural scorers with Gibbs, Wanamaker and Brown.

“I think being from Pittsburgh, we’re always going to be known as a hard-nosed defensive team,” Dixon said. “The Steelers started that and we’ll never get away from it, but that’s a good thing to be. Our offense has been good year to year, and we’re trying to get better.”

Ironically, Jamie Dixon wasn’t the only coach making analogies between the Panthers and the Steelers.

“They play kind of like the Steelers play,” coach Williams said after the game. “They run a play off every dead ball, every made basket, and no matter what we do to off center that eventually they’ll get the ball back to 12 [Ashton Gibbs] or 1 [Travon Woodall] in the logo and run a play.”

Lamar Patterson has also been a bright spot for Pitt off the bench. Both Wanamaker and Dixon had praise for the redshirt freshman.

“It just seemed like last week everything started clicking for him,” Dixon said. “He’s practicing better, there is no other way to put it, and he looks more comfortable out there.”

Patterson played aggressivly for the Panthers on Saturday, pulling down five rebounds and five points in just 16 minutes of play. His strong effort along with the rest of the Panther’s bench is one reason why Pitt is the No. 1 rebounding team in the nation right now.

With the win, Pitt advanced to 144-11 all-time at the Petersen Events Center and 15-1 on the season (3-0 in the Big East for the third consecutive year).

“We just had a good win and now we go on the road to play the No. 1 team in RPI, Georgetown, on Wednesday,” Dixon said. “This conference has been pretty good the last couple years, by far the best in the country.”