Despite clawing their way back into the game, the Pitt men’s basketball team finished Tuesday evening’s match with a whimper.
Led by 24 points from A.J. Hammons, Purdue fought off Pitt’s sporadic comeback attempts to defeat the Panthers 72-59 at the Petersen Events Center.
With 12:23 left in the game, James Robinson rose up and knocked down a deep jumper to give Pitt its first lead of the game over Purdue, 44-43. Just a minute later, Purdue guard Ryan Cline converted a 3-pointer, as the Boilermakers took a lead they refused to relinquish.
Hammons, a talented senior center, finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds off 10-15 shooting. After graduating, he’s expected to be a top prospect in the NBA Draft. He exhibited that professional skillset with a variety of post moves and strong finishes inside.
“He was getting his catches in good position,” Pitt junior forward Michael Young said. “He wasn’t dribbling. He was just kind of catching and turning. It makes it tough.”
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon echoed those thoughts.
“Hammons was a difference maker from start to finish,” Dixon said.
Purdue got off to a quick start offensively, outscoring Pitt 18-3 in the first six minutes. The run started with a Dakota Mathias 3-pointer, followed by three more Purdue 3-pointers, three more, two jumpers and a layup.
The next five minutes were more of the same, as Purdue had little trouble finding and hitting quality shots. Pitt, a usually effective offensive team this season, struggled to get quality ball movement and spacing early, as Purdue’s defense seemed to disrupt its flow.
The Panthers at times didn’t hurt themselves offensively, settling for some subpar shots early in the shot clock. In other attempts to expedite the offense’s effectiveness, the Panthers turned the ball over five times in the first 10 minutes by moving too hastily.
After Ryan Luther traded baskets twice with Purdue to break up the run, Pitt began to find some offensive rhythm, while also slowing the Boilermakers by switching to a 2-3 zone defense. Pitt went on a 14-7 run in the next eight and a half minutes with balanced scoring to bring the game to 29-21.
Robinson said the zone was effective in derailing Purdue’s offense while also increasing Pitt’s offensive effectiveness.
“We went zone, and we identified the shooters pretty well, and we were able to get some easy buckets, especially in transition,” Robinson said.
Forward Rafael Maia was particularly effective defensively in slowing Purdue’s post players by consistently disrupting entry passes and tallying two steals in limited action.
Pitt would continue to trim the lead in the the rest of the half, with a deep Robinson 3-pointer and a dunk by Young off a Robinson pass. After a quick start offensively, Purdue ended the half shooting 1-14 from the field, as Pitt cut the lead to 29-26 at the break.
The two teams got off to an even start in the second half, trading points in the first five minutes to extend the score to 39-36. Young and Robinson continued to lead the Panthers in the span, as Robinson hit a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper, and Young scored a free throw and a jumper.
Robinson finished with 17 points, while Young accumulated 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Purdue started to find success again inside in the span, as Hammons thwarted Pitt with a variety of post moves and layups.
As the half progressed, Purdue continued to operate well offensively, as Hammons gave the Pitt big men fits inside. With 6:24 left, Cline hit another 3-pointer, extending Purdue’s lead to 58-50 and prompting Dixon to call a timeout.
Cline was key in Purdue’s second-half offensive success, hitting four 3-pointers and effectively stopping any Pitt momentum. Robinson said some defensive lapses led to Cline’s success.
“We just had some mental mistakes that left him open in the corner, and he hit his shots,” Robinson said.
In the process, Pitt would get their opportunities to cut Purdue’s lead, but could not convert on open jumpers. On the night, Pitt finished 4-19 from three and shot 35.1 overall from the field.
“You gotta shoot it better than 4-19, especially with the shots that we had,” Dixon said.
Pitt would make efforts to cut the lead, but was consistently matched by Purdue — which had little trouble finding quality shots offensively — in the process. Purdue, too, did an effective job of limiting Pitt’s attempt at making a run with quality defense.
“Defense is going to win games, and their defense won them the game,” Dixon said.
Purdue’s talent ended up being too much for the Panthers. Dixon praised the Boilermakers, calling them “as good as anybody in the country.”
Still, the Pitt head coach stated that his team needed to win this game.
“You can’t lose home games, no matter how good the opponent is,” Dixon said.
Pitt will take the court again on Friday at 7 p.m. when it faces off against Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center.