PITTSBURGH—Usually Pitt (12-2, 0-1 Big East) wears down opponents in the second half but on Monday afternoon, it was visiting Cincinnati (13-1, 1-0 Big East) who wore down the Panthers. The Bearcats came back from an eight-point deficit at the break (34-26) and pulled away for a 70-61 win at the Petersen Events Center.
Talib Zanna led Pitt with 16 points
“It was a tale of two halves. We’re a better team than the way we played in the second half,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “Year-after-year we usually come out strong in the second half but we got totally out-played in the second half.”
Pitt was winning the battle of the boards in the first half but got beat bad on the boards in the second half, a key Dixon pointed out as contributing to the loss.
“We out-rebound them by four in the first half but got out-rebounded by nine in the second half. That is a big number,” Dixon said. “Being out-rebounded, defensive breakdowns, and missed free throws all added up. That’s on us. We didn’t get it done.”
Pitt went 0-10 from three-point range, 15 for 25 from the free throw line, and was out-rebounded 37-32 for the game. The last time Pitt did not hit a three-pointer was March 12, 2009 which was at the Big East Tournament against West Virginia.
One key stretch that pointed to Pitt being worn late in the game was when Cam Wright hit a layup to cut the Panthers’ deficit to five points at 60-55 with 3:24 left in the game and needed a stop on defense.
The Bearcats missed a three-pointer, got the offensive rebound, missed a jumper as time ran off the clock, the long rebound bounced about chest-high past two Panthers and the Bearcats got the rebound once again. They milked the clock again and scored on an uncontested dunk to take a 62-55 lead with 1:41 left in the game.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin pointed to that sequence as being a key late in the game. He also pointed out the Bearcats strategy entering the game which played out exactly as he drew it up.
“We had the ball for two minutes. We kept getting the offensive rebound. That shortened the last few minutes of the game,” Cronin said. “We try to keep the pressure up and win the game in the last ten minutes. Out-rebounding Pitt is no small order.”
Cincinnati was led by Cashmere Wright with 18 points, Sean Kilpatrick with 16 points, and Jaquon Parker with 13 points. Wright also stressed how the Bearcats defense plays up-tempo the entire game in an effort to wear down their opponent.
“The first 30 minutes we try to wear you out the most we can,” Wright said. “In the last 10 minutes we feel the opponent will start making bad decisions.”
It was almost uncanny tha the Bearcats took their first lead with 10:13 left in the game and never looked back. Lamar Patterson who scored 13 for the Panthers, felt the team did not play well in the second half. He also felt the long stretch in the final three minutes dashed the team’s hopes of coming back.
“We didn’t come out the way we should of in the second half,” Patterson said. “We didn’t come up with the rebound both times. That hurt us big time.”
Pitt was led by Talib Zanna with 16 points. Steve Adams did not take a shot but did pull down nine rebounds. Cam Wright also scored in double figures with 10.
“We needed to do a better job on rebounds,” Wright said. “It wasn’t hard to tell that we probably got out-rebounded.”
Pitt’s last ditch effort came with 1:33 left when Zanna hit a layup and was fouled to pull the Panthers to within five points at 62-57. He missed the free throw but Patterson putback the rebound and Pitt was down three points.
Woodall then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled. He could have brought Pitt to within one point if he hit the free throws but he missed the front end of the one-and-one.
“I think it was a hard-fought game on both sides,” Woodall said. “We knew the competition was going to get a lot better.”
The competition continues to get better as the Panthers now play their next two games on the road, at Rutgers on Jan. 5 and at Georgetown on Jan 9.
“We had opportunities,” Dixon said. “We have a lot of work to do.”