Men’s Basketball: Pitt stays undefeated, crushes Penn

By Lauren Kirschman

For awhile in the first half, it appeared like Penn would hang around with the Pitt men’s… For awhile in the first half, it appeared like Penn would hang around with the Pitt men’s basketball team, much like the scrappy Robert Morris squad the Panthers faced earlier in the week.

But after Penn pulled within three points thanks to a Miles Cartwright three-pointer at the 6:48 mark, Pitt scored the last 15 points of the half and never looked back.

That run gave the Panthers a 36-18 advantage at the break. That momentum carried over into the second half as Pitt finished with an 82-58 victory.

During the last four minutes of the first half, the Panthers (7-0) out-rebounded Penn 10-0, and Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said defense and better offensive execution led to that advantage.

The Panthers finished with a 35-20 advantage on the boards.

“I thought we finished out that half very well, we played very unselfish and that was a good stretch for us,” Dixon said in a post-game press conference. “We have to beat people on the boards by big margins, because that’s something we really emphasize and do well.

Senior Gilbert Brown added that the offensive rebounding stems from consistency.

“We practice it day in and day out,” he said. “We never take a day off or take a play off. As long as we keep that in mind, we’ll continue to dominate on the offensive boards.”

Many of those offensive boards—the Panthers collected 15 to Penn’s six—came from the bench, as Nasir Robinson grabbed three and Dante Taylor and J.J. Moore each added two. The bench contributions didn’t stop with rebounds, however, as the reserves outscored the starters 46-36.

Brown said the Pitt bench, which goes six deep, seems like having a second group of starters.

“It’s really beneficial to us to have these players on the team and the capability of playing deep,” Brown said. “It’s unique and special, because we have guys coming off the bench that have game experience. They can only continue to grow and get better.”

Taylor led the charge off the bench, scoring 11 points and pulling down four rebounds. Dixon said Taylor played well, that he’s playing better defensively and getting increasingly more comfortable offensively, which is what Dixon likes to see from sophomores.

Moore added 11 points and five rebounds, while Robinson put up nine points and grabbed four boards. Eleven Panthers reached double-digits in minutes.

“These guys are handling [the depth] the right way,” Dixon said. “Every guy wants to play good minutes. They made good decisions and played unselfish.”

In particular, Dixon said Wanamaker’s unselfish play stood out, as the senior guard took only six shots while dishing out six assists and scoring six points.

Penn head coach Jerome Allen said it was Pitt’s offensive rebounding, rather than the depth that really affected the Quakers.

“I don’t think their depth bothered us, it’s just them being relentless on the offensive boards,” he said. “I felt like we didn’t execute our game plan.”

Ashton Gibbs started the first half-ending run with a three-pointer from the corner, his first of the game. Then, Travon Woodall threw an alley-oop to Gilbert Brown who slammed it home for two. On the next possession, Woodall was fouled and sank both shots from the line.

Gibbs followed by sending a sharp one-handed pass inside to Robinson. Robinson missed the shot, but was fouled. He made one-of-two foul shots, but J.J. Moore rebounded the miss, leading to a Brad Wanamaker drive to the hoop and a lay-up.

Robinson added two points when Moore threw up a three at the end of the shot clock and he put back the miss.  Moore got in on the scoring action minutes later, when the officials called an intentional foul on Tyler Bernardini. Moore made one-of-two from the line.

On Pitt’s next possession, Moore missed another three, but Robinson, who collected three offensive rebounds in the first half, grabbed two boards before finishing with a lay-up. Dante Taylor ended the half and the Panther run when he made a lay-up and was fouled, completing the three-point play at the line with 3.5 seconds remaining.

Earlier in the first half, it appeared as if the Panthers were going to continue the startling trend of allowing teams to creep back into games. Pitt reached its first double digit lead when Lamar Patterson found Robinson in the key, who in turn dished off to Taylor to make the score 15-4.

After that, the Quakers went on an 11-3 run. Jack Eggleston hit a 3-pointer from straightaway to cut the deficit to 15-7. After McGhee answered with a lay-up inside, Fran Dougherty made a reverse lay-up then Miles Cartwright nailed a three from the baseline. On the next Penn possession, Cartwright was fouled and hit one-of-two from the line.

Following a McGhee foul shot, the Penn scoring barrage ended with an Eggleston lay-up.

“We got some stops, we got some rebounds, we were able to get out and run a little bit,” Allen said. “The [Pitt] defense had to make adjustments and shift. I think that’s when we’re at our best.”

From that point on, though, it was all Pitt. The Quakers’ final push to get back into the game came in the second half.

Eggleston scored a lay-up on Penn’s first possession following the break. And after Zanna netted a tip-in at the other end, Eggleston added an old-fashioned three-point play. Zack Rosen followed with a three to cut the Panther lead to 38-26, but that’s as close as Penn would come for the remainder of the game.

Gibbs quieted Penn with a floater in the lane, and then Brown drove to the hoop for a dunk. After two Eggleston foul shots, Taylor dunked, Wanamaker dished to Robinson for a lay-up and Gibbs and Robinson hit consecutive threes to push the advantage back to 52-28 and put the Quakers away for the last time.

Gibbs led the Panthers with 12 points and Brown put up nine points and pulled down seven boards. Woodall dished out six assists with one turnover. Woodall said he’s playing with more control than he did earlier in his career.

“I’m trying to take what the defense gives me and take the open play,” Woodall said.

Cartwright paced the Quakers, putting up 22 points. Eggleston added 16 points and seven rebounds, while Rosen contributed 11 points.

The Panthers will be back in action Wednesday night when they face Duquesne in the annual City Game at Consol Energy Center.