PITTSBURGH - In bouncing back from a tough loss to American just before New Year's, the Pitt Panthers seemed to follow an eerily similar trend in three consecutive victories to open Big East play with a 4-0 start.
Against Villanova, the Panthers silenced a hostile crowd with a 13-2 run to open the game, but 'Nova brought the score back to a 32-30 Pitt advantage at halftime. However, the Panthers busted the game open with a 10-0 run to open the second half and cruised to a 70-50 victory over the Wildcats.
The Panthers were led by an 18 point performance by Ashton Gibbs, who did struggle from the field and shot just 7/16 (4/9 from beyond the arc). He did add six rebounds and five steals. Gary McGhee was the only other Panther in double figures, as he produced 13 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double.
In the win, Pitt did not allow any Villanova players to reach double figures in scoring.
Three days later, the Panthers jumped to a 15-3 advantage at South Florida and then added an 8-0 run to open the second half en route to a dominant 81-61 victory, as four starters finished in double figures.
Gibbs once again topped the scoring list, though this time on a very efficient 6/11 shooting (5/9 from three), and he continued his all around game with 5 boards, 4 assists, and 5 steals. Brad Wanamaker added 17 points along with 4 assists and 5 steals, and Nasir Robinson contributed 16 points and 5 boards. McGhee also had ten points.
As the Panthers returned home, for the third straight game they found a similar recipe: an early lead right out of the gate. Pitt pounced on Seton Hall for an early 16-5 advantage and never looked back, blasting to a 92-69 victory for their most points in any game this year.
Five players finished in double figures, led by Travon Woodall's 19 points off the bench on 7/14 shooting (He was 5/9 from the charity stripe), as a plethora of Panthers had foul troubles early. Gibbs and McGhee each added 13 points, while Robinson and Gilbert Brown had ten apiece. Wanamaker led the squad with 8 rebounds, while Gibbs had 4 assists yet again.
Finally, in a nationally televised contest, the Panthers took on the Georgetown Hoyas at the Petersen Events Center. Despite not getting their typical early lead, Pitt utilized a 13-0 run to jump to a 34-20 lead and blowout the Hoyas in an 84-62 final.
Wanamker shined for the Panthers with 18 points and shot 4 for 6 behind the arc, while Gibbs put up 14 points and 6 boards with a 3 for 4 performance from three. In total, the Panthers made 10 of 16 three point attempts.
Dante Taylor had a breakout game, with 10 points and 9 rebounds as McGhee struggled with 3 fouls for much of the contest. Lamar Patterson also had a career high 9 points off the bench.
The Panthers will have a four day layoff before heading to Ohio to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats, who are winless in Big East play (0-4) thus far. Their next real marquee matchup is a rematch with Villanova on January 30.
PITTSBURGH - Maybe they had too much to eat on Christmas. Maybe they were looking past their last game before heading into the grueling Big East schedule. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
But no matter what the case, after the #2 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers cruised through December to start the year 12-0, their final non-conference game left an extremely sour taste in their mouth as the American University Eagles stunned the Panthers, 77-68, at the Petersen Events Center on December 27.
"It certainly wasn't the best way to head into our conference schedule," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "But the guys realized that and will be sure to work extra hard to push forward through that rough patch."
They had gotten through their first true test thanks to a final minute 3-pointer by Ashton Gibbs to squeak past Tennessee, 70-69, at the Pete. They were easily beating lesser opponents, winning their other December games by no less than 15 points apiece.
To end November, they were forced to escape Robert Morris's upset bid, but still were very convincing as they pushed to the #2 ranking in the NCAA through 12 games.
No other really games were of note, as the Panthers consistently outlasted and dominated lesser schools, but their defense shined in their worst offensive performance of the year, as they outlasted Duquesne, 56-47, in the City Game.
They are scoring at a 72.0 point per game clip while only giving up 58.7 points per game, tied for 10th in the entire nation.
Individually, the Panthers have been led this year by Ashton Gibbs, who is averaging 16.2 points per game to lead the team. His season high total of 25 came as he carried Pitt past the RMU upset bid, and he had 21 against Tennessee.
"He's been our go-to guy when we need a basket," Dixon said. "With that shot against Tennessee, he showed that he wants the ball in key late game situations."
Brad Wanamaker is the only other Panther averaging double figure scoring (11.2 PPG) displaying the squad's balance, and Gary McGhee has added 9.0 PPG and 9.6 board per game. Gilbert Brown (9.8 PPG) and Nasir Robinson (8.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG) round out the starting lineup.
With their stellar defense but methodical offensive pace, the Panthers have displayed that they can easily withstand teams, but never really seem to blow many schools out. Perhaps that pace is what did them in against the hot shooting Eagles.
Consider the American game an aberration.
With such a tough schedule to look forward to, the Panthers have to hope it was.