Men’s basketball: Panthers hand Connecticut first loss of season

By Alex Oltmanns

The Pitt men’s basketball team didn’t have much time to ease into the rigorous Big East… The Pitt men’s basketball team didn’t have much time to ease into the rigorous Big East schedule. But it didn’t need it.

The No. 6 Panthers squared off against No. 4 Connecticut Monday night to open their conference schedule and got off to a quick lead a mere 12 seconds into the game on a Brad Wanamaker layup.

It was a lead they would never give up, on the way to a 78-63 win in their Big East season opener and handing the Huskies their first loss of the season.

“We did some good things and we sustained it for 40 minutes and that was good to see,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game.

Pitt (13-1, 1-0 Big East) guard Ashton Gibbs led the team in scoring with 12 points while Wanamaker chipped in with 11.

But it was Gibbs’ effort on the defensive end of the floor, guarding standout guard Kemba Walker who came into the game averaging 26.5 points per game, that might have been most important for the Panthers.

Walker managed to score 31 points, but was just 10-27 from the field including 3-11 from 3-point range, with a lot of those shots being highly contested.

“I feel as though we had a good team effort on defense,” Wanamaker said after the game.

“Jamie [Dixon’s] team was certainly ready defensively,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said after the game. “I thought they just locked us up defensively.”

With the Panthers taking control of the game from the outset, the Huskies (10-1, 0-1 Big East) had to play catch-up the entire time.

The Huskies cut the lead to within six at 30-24 on a Walker free throw with 5:19 to go in the first half but never got any closer than that.

Pitt forward Nasir Robinson made the most of his first start of the season, grabbing a team high 10 rebounds while also scoring 11 points, good enough for a double-double.

“He definitely brings a lot of energy. Having him in early, it really helped us out,” Gibbs said after the game. “He gets a lot of rebounds and having him in the starting lineup definitely helps us.”

Senior center Gary McGhee also added a physical force down low, recording a double-double himself with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The win, coming in front of a “gold-out” crowd, pushed the Panthers record against top five teams at the Petersen Events Center to 8-0.

The game was closely officiated, with 49 total fouls being called in a league that is known for its physical play. Ten players finished with three or more fouls.

The Panthers will look to build on the win when they take on Providence Jan. 4 in their second Big East game.