PITTSBURGH—Pitt (15-4, 3-3 Big East) let a 13 point half time lead (35-22) evaporate as Connecticut (12-5, 2-3 Big East) started chipping away midway through the second half and tied the game 55-55 with less than five minutes left and again at 58-58 with four minutes left.
The Panthers then hit some key plays down the final stretch and held on for a 69-61 win at a raucous sell-out crowd of 12,510 at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
“We defended really well in the first half, probably about as good of a second half as we’ve played,” Dixon said. “You like to finish every game. [Connecticut] made plays to come back and tie it up. [In the final three minutes] we defended well, got a couple big jump shots by a number of different guys, and Dante [Taylor] played well down the stretch.”
With starting center Steve Adams on the bench, Taylor fueled Pitt’s breakout in the final three minutes. After a three-point play by Ryan Boatright to tie the game at 58-58 with 3:43 left, Taylor drew the defense, then dished the ball to James Robinson who hit a big three-pointer to give Pitt the lead back.
On the next possession, after DeAndre Daniels hit one of two free throws, Taylor pulled down a Lamar Patterson miss and was fouled on the offensive rebound. He hit both free throws and the Panthers led by four at 63-59 with 2:47 left.
On their next possession, Tray Woodall fed the ball to Taylor in the paint. This time, the Uconn defense chose to collapse on the potential swingman and Taylor calmly hit a 15-foot jumper to give Pitt a six-point lead at 65-59 with a minute left and the Pete went bananas.
Taylor finished with six points and pulled down seven rebounds. He felt his job off the bench was to provide leadership and energy. He credited the home crowd as providing energy to the team as well.”
“I tried to step up as a senior. Tray [Woodall] trusted me and got me the ball [on the jumper he hit]. We definitely wanted this home win,” Taylor said. “I tried to give the team a spark off the bench. The crowd was a part of the game too. It motivated us a lot. Without the Zoo, this team would not be as good at home as we are.”
Lamar Patterson led Pitt with 14 points. He also dished out five assists.
“In the games we lost, we let it go at the end. We showed today we could get the victory,” Patterson said. “[The win] was definitely important. We were 0-2 at home in the Big East. We’re not known for losing here.”
Tray Woodall added 13 points. He also had six assists, four turnovers, two rebounds, and a steal.
“It’s a tough league. Uconn is a tough team.. It was a great atmosphere out there. We just stuck with it,” Woodall said. “We knew they missed some shots in the first half that they usually make. We knew we couldn’t keep a team like that down.”
James Robinson added twelve points. Trey Zeigler added eight points and played 23 minutes.
“I tried to be aggressive and make things happen,” Zeigler said. “I’m starting to fit in well. I want to help the team as much as I can.”
Pitt out-rebounded Connecticut 38-27. The Panthers were led on the boards by Steve Adams with nine rebounds.
“We keep emphasizing rebounds. That is the key,” Dixon said. “We were up 8 rebounds at halftime. It was another great rebounding effort by us.”
Connecticut was led by Ryan Boatright who had 20 points, including 16 in the second half. Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie credited his team for making a run in the second half, but was embarrassed by his team’s first half performance.
“You can’t spot a good Pittsburgh team 13 points. We can’t do that in the Big East. We have to play hard for 40 minutes,” Ollie said. “We played touch in the second half. At the end of the game, we needed a stop and we got scored on four of the last five possessions.”
The Panthers return to action at Providence on Tuesday night. They have three of their last four with the loss being to Marquette in overtime.