The cold front that has gripped Pittsburgh for the last week extended inside the Petersen Events Center when the Pitt men’s basketball team returned there for its first conference home game of the season.
Unable to overcome numerous, lengthy scoreless stretches throughout the game on Saturday afternoon, a situation made worse by a historically poor rebounding effort, it lost to Clemson, 71-62.
The Tigers dominated the collection of missed shots, finishing with a plus 17 (39-22) rebounding margin: the highest Pitt has allowed an opponent since January of 1999.
Afterwards, Pitt redshirt senior Cameron Wright, who shared the game-high total of 18 points with Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson and set a new season-high, explained this dynamic frankly.
“They came in here, [and] kicked our tails on the glass,” Wright said.
Twenty-two rebounds is the worst end-of-game total by a Jamie Dixon-coached squad and the the lowest number grabbed by the men’s team ever at Petersen Events Center, leaving Dixon disappointed.
“It was our big emphasis going into this game, as it always is, but we made maybe even a more impassioned plea and an emphasis on the rebounding,” Dixon said. ”And so to get beat this bad on the glass is even more hard to realize.”
The nature of the final outcome didn’t look likely early on for the Panthers (11-5, 1-2 ACC) who established the game’s first lead, albeit a small one never exceeding four points, and held it for six and a half minutes, their only time spent in control of the contest.
A subsequent switch to zone defense by the Tigers (9-6, 1-2 ACC) had its desired effect, slowing the Panthers’ attack at times for the remainder of play. They shot 39 percent in the first half and 41 in the second.
This neutralization of that threat allowed the Tigers, looking for their first conference victory, to separate from Pitt on the other end of the floor.
From 13:35 to 9:35 in the opening period, the guests went on a 9-0 run, seizing an advantage for the first time.
Three minutes later, they extended their lead further with a 6-0 stretch, which spanned almost the the same amount of time. His team’s ability to score at crucial points pleased Clemson coach Brad Brownell.
“We made shots, which we haven’t done in a long time,“ Brownell said.
The Panthers responded promptly with a 10-2 run of their own, using a full court press for part of it to create the offense they couldn’t otherwise. The surge ignited the fans in attendance, sounding the loudest they would be all day.
After the Tigers had led by as many as 11, Pitt entered halftime down 36-31.
When play resumed, Pitt eventually drew even with the Tigers after six minutes on a jumper by Jamel Artis.
But the Tigers unleashed their final and, most crucial, scoring run in response going 7-0. 6-0 in rebounds then.
Dixon lamented the way in which the tie score, and the effort to get to that point, was so quickly erased.
“It kind of goes hand in hand, you rebound, you’re making up the difference and outscoring them. That’s what we did,” he said. “As it happened, it went the other way.”
Unable to stop opposing possessions and start their own by getting rebounds, made a last effort at closing the gap late in the game difficult.
When asked why he and his teammates got outrebounded in the manner that they did, Wright didn’t have a technical explanation.
“It’s plain and simple. They wanted it more today,” he said.
Blossomgame and his teammate Rod Hall, who finished with 12 points, felt it an accurate description.
“We’re really hungry right now,” Hall said.
Coaching his 400th game on Saturday afternoon, and possessing a 299-100 record, Dixon will have to wait for his 300th victory.
Pitt next plays at home, against Florida State, on Wednesday at 9 p.m.