Panthers pull away from Philadelphia in final exhibition

Panthers pull away from Philadelphia in final exhibition

For the second straight game, albeit one that doesn’t count, the Pitt men’s basketball team’s subpar defensive performance allowed a lesser team to stay competitive with it longer than expected.

A week after Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Pitt were tied late in the first half,  D-II Philadelphia University took the first lead of Friday night’s exhibition at the Petersen Events Center on a 3-pointer. Despite never taking a lead larger than that, Philadelphia stayed with Pitt for the majority of play before the Panthers eventually pulled away to win, 82-71.

Philadelphia head coach, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Herb Magee, said his team, which defeated Division I James Madison in its first exhibition of the season, knows the situation with these types of games.

“We’re a decided underdog,” Magee said. “It’s certainly a great game for us. We’re supposed to lose.”

The timely second-half execution by the Panthers kept them from losing the program’s first exhibition since 1998.

“Our defense kept them in the game, honestly,” sophomore Sheldon Jeter said. “Tonight, on ball [defense], we didn’t play good. Help [defense], we didn’t play good. All around, it just just a bad defensive night.”

Philadelphia’s Derek Johnson led all scorers with 34 points.

“He basically kept them in the game,” Michael Young said of the sophomore. “He constantly made shots the whole game, kept them in it, kept them confident.”

Young, also a sophomore, topped Pitt in points and rebounds, collecting 21 and 11, respectively.

Three of his teammates also finished with double figures scoring: Chris Jones, Durand Johnson and James Robinson.

The Rams kept things close despite using just five players for the bulk of the game due to strong outside shooting and overall offense, shooting 48 percent from both 3-point territory and the field.

“We definitely let those guys get in a rhythm early,” Johnson said. “Our defense wasn’t as good as it normally is and should be.”

After a back-and-forth opening period, the visitors went into halftime up a point, 35-34, but other than scoring the first basket when play resumed, wouldn’t hold an advantage again.

Still, for the first part of the second half, the game stayed close.

After head coach Jamie Dixon changed the defense to a zone fewer than eight minutes remaining, Pitt finally began to create a cushion, going on an 11-3 run.

“It was good for us. They were in a rhythm offensively,” Dixon said of the switch. “I probably would’ve gone to it earlier in a regular season game, but I’m still trying to get us better defensively.”

Pitt finished the game having shot 59 percent overall and 53 percent from three point-range, including 69 percent after halftime.

“If they don’t make everything they look at in the second half, [it] could’ve been a different result,” Magee said.

Magee blamed his team’s lack of depth and size for why it couldn’t maintain a high level of play for 40 minutes, saying no school at its lower level has Pitt’s combination of those attributes.

All but four healthy players for Pitt, three walk-ons and junior college transfer Tyrone Haughton, saw time on the court.

Pitt begins the regular season Friday, Nov. 14, at home against Niagara University. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.