Pitt defeats Marquette, 89-81

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Time after time, no matter what Marquette did in an attempt to disrupt Pitt's offense, the Panthers found ways to score in their 89-81 Big East Conference victory Saturday at the Petersen Events Center. Whether it was pinpoint execution to set up a wide-open 3-point shots in the first half or continually finding ways to defeat Marquette's junk defenses in the second half, the offense sizzled from the opening tip until the final buzzer.

When the game was over, the Panthers shot a season-high 60 percent from the field and had four players reach double figures. They were 30 for 50 overall, 10 for 18 from 3-point range and 19 for 27 from the free-throw line.

"Offensively, you can't be any more efficient than that," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said afterward.

No. 5 Pitt has shot better than 52 percent from the field in each of the first three conference games. The Panthers have made 55 percent of their shots in conference play.

Pitt's transformation from a defensive outfit into a team that is geared more toward offense started two seasons ago when the Panthers led Division I in offensive efficiency. This team is on track to challenge that squad's offensive output.

The 2008-09 team averaged 77.8 points per game. The Panthers are averaging 81.2 points a game this season. They are averaging 83.3 points in conference play.

The school record is held by the 1986-87 team, which averaged 84 per game.

"It's just the balance of this team," said senior guard Brad Wanamaker, who scored 15 points against the Golden Eagles. "We have multiple guys who can lead us in scoring every game. That carries over to us being an unselfish team. Everyone who comes into the game contributes. They pass the ball around. Everyone gets it going at one point in the game. Everyone can hit shots. As long as we play unselfish, anyone can lead us in scoring, and that's why we score so many points."

Dixon said outside shooting is one of the main reasons the Panthers are flourishing on offense. Pitt's 3-point field-goal percentage continues to climb after a slow start to the season. Against Marquette, the Panthers were 10 for 18 from behind the 3-point arc. They are 25 for 48 from 3-point range in the first three Big East contests.

"We shoot the ball better than maybe any team we've had," Dixon said. "We've always been among the best in assist to turnover [ratio], always been a high assist team and always been a high offensive rebounding team. All of those things together make up a good offense.

"We're always scoring high, too. If you're from Pittsburgh, you'll be known as a defensive team and a hard-nosed, blue-collar team. The Steelers started that and we'll never get away from it, but that's a good thing. Our offense has been good from year to year. This is a good team offensively, and we're trying to get better."

Pitt (15-1, 3-0) jumped on Marquette (11-5, 2-1) early and led by as many as 16 points in the first half. The lead was 11 at halftime and the Golden Eagles could never get it below eight in the second half.

Pitt's 3-point shooting got the offense rolling in the first 20 minutes. The Panthers made 8 of their 10 3-pointers in the first half. Ashton Gibbs, who led the Panthers with 19 points, had four 3-pointers by halftime. Gilbert Brown continued his torrid 3-point shooting, going 2 for 3 from behind the arc. Brown has made 17 of his past 26 attempts from 3-point range.

"We never ran them off their routes," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said of Pitt's ability to get open 3-point attempts. "They play kind of like the Steelers play. They run a play after every dead ball, after every basket. No matter what you do to offset that, they'll eventually get the ball back to [Gibbs] or [Travon Woodall] and run a play. We never ran them off their line. They were averaging 6.3 3s per game, and today they had 10. If you score 30 percent of your points from 3, you'll have a hard time beating someone who does that."

In the second half, Williams employed some triangle-and-two zone defense that was designed to curtail the efforts of Gibbs and Wanamaker. The junk defense took away 3-point shooting as an option, but it opened up the middle for their teammates. Senior center Gary McGhee and others took full advantage.

McGhee was 5 for 5 from the field and finished with 12 points. Power forward Nasir Robinson was 4 for 6 from the field and had nine points.

"Our guards did a good job of penetrating and getting in the middle," McGhee said. "Marquette was playing a triangle-and-two zone. We got in the middle. They stepped up and got a lot of easy layups, and we crashed the glass pretty good. And we did a good job of finishing."

Marquette was able to stay competitive by grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and only turning the ball over twice. The Golden Eagles slashed Pitt's lead to eight several times in the second half, but they could never come up with a timely defensive stop to make the game interesting.

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com .


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