PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon spent the four days leading up to the Rutgers game harping on his team's weaknesses. He emphasized rebounding, perimeter defense and fixing a stagnant offense by getting the ball inside after Cincinnati exposed those issues Monday afternoon in the Big East Conference opener.
Then, Dixon watched his team make mistakes in the same areas over and over again in a 67-62 loss against the Scarlet Knights Saturday at Rutgers Athletic Center. The Panthers regressed in all three phases Dixon identified and now head to No. 15 Georgetown Tuesday night hoping to stop the bleeding on a season that quickly could spiral out of control.
Rutgers sophomore guard Eli Carter had a field day against Pitt's porous perimeter defense. He scored 23 points to lead the way for the Scarlet Knights, who shot 51 percent from the field.
The Scarlet Knights also dominated the boards, winning the rebounding margin, 36-24.
If Pitt's inability to stop Rutgers wasn't enough, the Panthers contributed to their woes by failing to execute the game plan Dixon and his coaching staff implemented on offense. After stressing post touches for the better part of the week, the Panthers came out and attempted 26 3-pointers. They made just eight of them and boarded a bus for Washington, searching for answers.
"We're not a team that shoots a lot of 3s, so it's surprising that we would shoot the 3s, especially with the emphasis [on more post touches]," Dixon said. "There were some open ones we didn't make and some guarded ones. It's on me. We have to do a better job of getting the ball to the right guys."
Dixon tried to get the right guy guarding Carter, but his plan failed to materialize. Dixon started sophomore defensive stopper Cameron Wright in place of James Robinson in the backcourt with the idea of Wright guarding Carter.
But Carter did not start the game because he violated team rules. Instead, he came off the bench when Wright exited and scored 14 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Scarlet Knights jump to a 39-25 halftime lead.
Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall said falling behind by such a large margin was problematic, and he said the players were advised properly of Carter's offensive abilities.
"It was tough," Woodall said. "We should have gotten to the ball a little more. Coach emphasized they were going to come out firing from deep. They came out and shot the lights out. I think they started the game 7 for 7. We have to come out more intense, get into them more and make shots more difficult.
"It's not a surprise. That's what [Carter] does. He comes out and fires up shots, takes tough shots. We let him get going early. Once he got comfortable early, he's going to start hitting tougher shots."
Woodall also took the blame for not following the offensive game plan the coaches drew up. Pitt started the game with a layup from center Steven Adams, but the Panthers quickly ignored the post and began to fire from 3-point range.
They attempted 14 3-pointers in the first half and missed 10. Woodall took six and finished the game 3 for 9 from 3-point range.
"We took too many 3s," Woodall said. "I took too many 3s. We thought it was fool's gold. We definitely could have got better shots. We just settled for 3s. I was the main culprit of it. I should have gotten to the basket more.
"We wanted to get the ball inside. We emphasized it all week in practice and then we still came out and settled for 3s. We wanted to get the ball inside or drive the ball and attack."
The Panthers did that in the second half, but it was too little too late. They cut the deficit to two twice in the final 4:23 and had opportunities to tie the score, but a turnover, missed block-out and missed shots prevented a comeback.
After Durand Johnson made it 55-53 after banking in a 3-pointer, the Panthers allowed 6-foot-6 forward Dane Miller to grab an offensive rebound. Miller dished inside to Jerome Seagears, who scored with 3:59 remaining to boost the lead back to four.
Then, after Adams made it 55-53 after slamming an alley-oop pass from Woodall, Pitt's perimeter defense failed again. Carter took Robinson off the dribble and nailed a short jumper in the lane to regain the four-point bulge.
On Pitt's next possession, Woodall missed badly on an open 3-point attempt after Adams grabbed an offensive rebound. The Scarlet Knights, who dropped their Big East opener by 25 points at Syracuse, then closed the game out from the free-throw line.
"We obviously dug a hole that we couldn't recover from," Dixon said. "It's hard to come back from a 15-point deficit, but we got it down pretty quick. We had opportunities, to get a stop and get a rebound. ... I guess when you put yourself in a hole, you have very little margin for error."
J.J. Moore led the Panthers with 14 points. Woodall, with 11 points, was the only starter to reach double figures.
NOTES -- Pitt had won six consecutive games at Rutgers, with the previous loss coming in 2001. ... Talib Zanna, Pitt's leading scorer, scored nine points, all in the second half. ... Zanna was one of three Pitt starters not to score in the first half. Wright and Lamar Patterson were the others. ... Patterson finished with five points, and Wright did not score. ... Rutgers has beaten four of the past six ranked teams it has faced.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published January 6, 2013 5:00 AM