TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe Jamie Dixon should substitute the halftime speech for the pregame speech. That way, the Panthers might finally play a complete game again.
It was yet another slow start follwed by a fast finish for the fourth-ranked Panthers, who surged ahead in the second half for a 66-50 victory at the Sun Dome.
It was the fourth time in Pitt's last five victories that the Panthers had to overcome a halftime deficit.
Nasir Robinson led the Panthers with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Ashton Gibbs added 16 and Gilbert Brown had 10.
With the victory, Pitt (26-4, 14-3) remains in control of its own destiny in the race for the Big East regular-season championship. The Panthers can win their first Big East regular-season championship in seven years and their sixth in the history of the program with a victory against Villanova in the regular-season finale Saturday afternoon. They can also earn the outright conference title if Notre Dame loses at Connecticut on Saturday.
It was a big night for Pitt's seniors. They became the winningest class in school history. The victory Wednesday night was No. 109 for brown, Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee. They bested the previous record of 108, held by the 2004-05 senior class.
One senior reached a personal milestone while another came close. Wanamaker became the second player in school history to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 400 assists. Wanamaker completed the rare accomplishment with a rebound four minutes into the game. Carl Krauser is the only other player to accomplish that feat.
Brown finished the game five points shy of 1,000. He'll try to become the 40th Pitt player to reach 1,000 points against Villanova.
After trailing, 27-24 at halftime, Pitt opened up the second half on a 14-2 run and took a 38-29 lead with 15:05 remaining. The Panthers made 7 of their first eight shots from the field, with three of those baskets coming from Robinson.
The Panthers pushed the lead to double digits for the first time in the game when Gibbs made a 3-pointer to make it 43-32 with 13:24 remaining. That shot ignited a 3-point barrage for the panthers, who would make three more in the next three minutes.
When Lamar Patterson nailed one from the wing it made the score 52-36 with 10:05 remaining, and the rout was on.
After sturggling against South Florida's matchup zone defense in the first half the Panthers made the necessary adjustments in the second half, getting the ball inside for some buckets. When the Bulls collapsed on the interior it opened up shooting lanes for Gibbs and Co.
As well as the second half went, the Panthers did not look like a conference title contender. It was another uninspiring first-half performance from the Panthers, who once again were slowed by a zone defense. The Panthers scored early against South Florida's man-to-man defense, but had trouble midway through the half when coach Stan Heath switched to a zone.
It was the sixth time in seven games that the Panthers were held to 30 points or fewer in the first half.
Neither team held more than a three-point lead in the first 17 minutes of the game. South Florida took a 23-18 lead after a Famous bucket. The Bulls were set to maintain that five-point bulge into halftime, but Robinson got loose under the basket and converted a layup with one second left to make it 27-24 after the first 20 minutes.
The Bulls were 12 for 28 from the field (43 percent) in the half and would have been up by more had they not gone 3 for 8 from the foul line. The front line of Famous and Gilchrist did most of the damage. They combined for 19 of the team's 27 points. Gilchrist was 4 for 5 from the field for eight points, and Famous was 4 for 10 with three free throws.
The Panthers were 8 for 23 from the field (35 percent) and 7 for 11 from the line. Brown and Robinson paced the team with eight points apiece, but they had little help. Wanamaker and Gibbs combined to go 1 for 7 from the field in the half.
NOTES -- The Panthers finished with a 7-2 record on the road in Big East play. That's more Big East road victories than any other team in school history. ???With a victory against Villanova on Saturday the Panthers can tie a school record for best conference record. The Panthers were 15-3 in the 2008-09 season, when they advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. ??? Pitt improved to 5-3 in the all time series against South Florida and has won four of the past five.
First Published March 3, 2011 4:00 AM