Men’s basketball: Brown scores 25, but Panthers fall short at South Florida

By Jay Huerbin

Gilbert Brown had a career day, but his performance wasn’t enough as the Panthers dropped… Gilbert Brown had a career day, but his performance wasn’t enough as the Panthers dropped their third Big East game with a 70-61 loss to South Florida yesterday. The junior scored a career-high 25 points — 14 in the first half — in 35 minutes off the bench in the loss for Pitt (16-5, 6-3 Big East).

“He had some good drives and he made some shots and played well. We need to get all-around performances from a lot of our guys,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “He did some good things and he’s got some things he can work on, too, but he shot it well which is the biggest thing.”

Brown, who saw the most action this season since returning from an academic suspension in late December, shot 9 for 13 from the field and made 2 of his 3 attempts from behind the arc.

South Florida’s Dominique Jones, a junior guard, overshadowed Browns effort with 37 points in the Bulls’ win,. The game was Jones’ second strongest of the season after leading his team to a 109-105 win over Providence with 46 points on Jan. 23.

Jones scored 14 of his points from free throws and was one of the reasons Pitt struggled controlling ball.

“The main thing we said was that we didn’t want to foul him, but then he had 17 free throw attempts. That’s what got him going,” Dixon said of Jones, who also came down with eight rebounds. “(We) felt pretty good about some of the shots he had taken and the situation we put him in. He got free throws and then he felt better about himself. That’s what you have to do. We didn’t do what we had set out to do, which was keep him off the line.”

Pitt has now lost three of their last four games — even trailing at halftime in their win over St. John’s on Thursday — after putting up an eight-game win streak, including a 5-0 start to conference play. A little more than a week ago, the Panthers were ranked in the top-10 nationally and in the running for a Big East regular season title.

“We need to play better. We shoot 47 percent we turned over 10 times but yet I didn’t think our offense was as good as it needed to be,” Dixon said about his team, which is 1-3 since starting the season 15-2. “Then defensively, we just didn’t get it done and obviously Jones hurt us and the free throws hurt us. Numbers don’t lie.”

The Panthers never led in the game and tied the game only twice — early in the first half. They closed the gap to four at two separate times with roughly five minutes left in the game, but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Trailing 54-49 with 5:33 left to play, Brown converted one of his two free throw attempts but Jones responded with a rebound and two-point layup at the other end.

Ashton Gibbs hit both of his free throws 45 seconds later to cut the Bulls’ lead back to four at 56-52.

It was the closest Pitt got to controlling the momentum in the game. Dixon said the inability to keep the tempo contributed to the loss.

“You look at the numbers and we’ve been a low foul team and we get to the free throw line much more than our opponents,” he said. “Today that was not the case and that’s why we lost. We have a track record of that and it’s what we do and we didn’t do it today.”

Pitt was also assessed its second technical foul of the season when Dixon was called for one 4:17 into the second half. It was Dixon’s first of the season — Gary McGhee was given a technical in Pitt’s win over DePaul in December.

The call came with Pitt trailing 38-32 and in South Florida’s end. Jones converted both free throws and extended the Bulls’ lead to eight.

“I said ‘call that’ and that was what I got a technical foul on. It was clear as day,” Dixon said. “But again, great respect for the officials. They do a great job, but in no way did I say anything that would have been insulting, or unprofessional.”

Despite the loss, Pitt shot better than South Florida from the field. The Panthers made 46.9 percent of their field goal attempts, their best effort since shooting 50 percent in their 82-77 overtime win over Louisville on Jan. 16. The Bulls were held to under 40 percent from the field.

But the Bulls succeeded in their ability to capitalize on Panther errors. South Florida was 24-of-35 (68.6 percent) from the free throw line, including 11-of-14 in the final two minutes of the game.

“I don’t know what it was,” Dixon said. “We had seven fouls in five minutes and you know we can’t foul. It’s one of our strengths.”

As for the Panthers, they were 12-for-22 from the foul line and missed crucial free throws down the stretch.

The Panthers will look for their seventh Big East win of the season when they travel to Morgantown on Wednesday for a matchup against the No. 9 Mountaineers (17-3, 6-2). The game is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Notes: Senior guard Jermaine Dixon (right ankle) did not start or play in the game. Jamie Dixon said “he was never set to play” against South Florida. Travon Woodall started in his place…McGhee was two points shy of a double-double after collecting 11 boards.