NEW YORK -- Pitt has endured its share of bad shooting nights over the years and found ways to win ugly games. But rarely have the Panthers shot poorly and won when they get beat at their own game.
That's what happened Wednesday night against No. 4 Michigan. The Wolverines gave the Panthers a taste of their own medicine and earned a hard-fought 67-62 victory in an N.I.T. Tip-Off semifinal game by out-rebounding the Panthers and being the more physical team.
Pitt (4-1) will play Delaware in a consolation game at 2:30 p.m. Friday. Delaware lost to Kansas State, 66-63, in the other semifinal.
The Wolverines asserted themselves inside and dominated the paint, winning the rebounding battle, 37-26. In the second half, they grabbed 23 rebounds to Pitt's 11.
"We hang our hats on rebounding," freshman point guard James Robinson said. "That's where we got beat -- rebounding and transition points."
The Wolverines (4-0) also forced the Panthers into a miserable second-half shooting performance. After shooting 52 percent in the first half, Pitt shot 38 percent in the second half. But that percentage was elevated by some late baskets when they were trying to play catch-up after falling behind by nine points with 1:27 remaining. With about three minutes to go in the half they were shooting 25 percent.
The Panthers made just three baskets in the first 13 minutes of the second half, and the Wolverines took advantage of the dry spell to take their first lead of the second half with a 9-0 run.
Michigan coach John Beilein changed things up after halftime and played a lot of 1-3-1 zone. The Wolverines had not played any zone in their first three games.
"We practiced against it, and I felt like we were prepared," Patterson said. "Coach thought they might go to it. We were ready for it, but they were aggressive high up top and we didn't attack it very well."
The stagnant offense was a big factor in the second half, but the Panthers pointed to the rebounding and transition defense as the two biggest factors. In addition to getting beat by double digits on the boards, the Wolverines scored 19 fast-break points.
What made the final 20 minutes so surprising was the way Pitt played in the first half. The Panthers shot 52 percent from the field and had a small edge in rebounding. In the second half, Michigan took the game over with its defense and aggressive style.
"We came out at halftime with a different attitude," said Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke, who led the Wolverines with 17 points.
Tim Hardaway, Jr. contributed 16 points, Nik Stauskas 15 and Glenn Robinson III 13. The Wolverines shot 46 percent for the game.
Lamar Patterson led the Panthers (4-1) with 14 points, but he was the only player to reach double figures.
Coach Jamie Dixon got next to nothing from the center position. Freshman starter Steven Adams did not score and had one rebound in 10 foul-plagued minutes. His backup, Dante Taylor, had four points and two rebounds.
"The thing that sticks out is the rebounding," Dixon said. "That's something that doesn't happen, but it did. The possessions just added up. We'll learn from it and get better for it."
Pitt's bench contributed 27 points, but only six after halftime. Cameron Wright scored eight points in the first half, but he did not score after halftime.
The Panthers led at halftime, 33-29. Patterson made it 36-29 on Pitt's first possession of the second half after converting a 3-point play, but Michigan chipped away at the lead and tied the score at 44-44 after Hardaway made a layup with 9:24 remaining.
Hardaway's basket capped a 7-3 Michigan run. Hardaway then gave the Wolverines their first lead of the second half after making two free throws. Glenn Robinson III made it 48-44 with 7:03 left.
Patterson stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer, Pitt's first basket in 5 minutes, to cut the lead to one. The Panthers had a chance to take the lead after a Michigan miss, but Adams missed a layup.
Michigan took advantage of the miscue. Hardaway came down and made a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 51-47 lead with 6:01 remaining. The Wolverines built their lead to 59-50 before the Panthers made a late run.
Talib Zanna converted a 3-point play and Tray Woodall made a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to make it 59-56, evoking memories of Saturday's improbable come-from-behind victory against Oakland.
But Michigan did not melt under the pressure the way Oakland did. The Wolverines were 8 for 8 from the line in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.
NOTES -- Pitt fell to 12-6 against teams ranked in the top five of the AP poll under Jamie Dixon. The Panthers had won 16 of their previous 24 games at Madison Square Garden. Michigan now leads the all-time series, 12-6. Wednesday's game was the first in the series since 1996. It was Michigan's first victory in the series since 1963.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published November 22, 2012 5:30 AM