Cook: Home cookin' for Pitt turns sour

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It used to be the best bang in town for your sporting dollar. If you bought a ticket for a Pitt men's basketball game, you almost were guaranteed to see a win. Pitt was good, tough, entertaining. It beat almost every team that came into Petersen Events Center.

Not so much anymore.

The grand building, still spectacular in its 11th year of operation, looks the same. The celebrated Oakland Zoo is as loud and intimidating as ever. The kids packed in Saturday afternoon for the game against Marquette, filling nearly two-thirds of the lower bowl and making the place shake when Pitt's Lamar Patterson hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to force overtime.

But the results continue to be disappointing -- stunning, actually -- because we're not used to seeing Pitt lose at home. It failed to make Marquette pay for allowing Patterson to get wide open for the tying shot. Instead of being energized, it was the team that sagged in overtime, falling short, 74-67.

Pitt is 0-2 this season at Petersen Events Center in Big East Conference games.

It is 4-7 in league home games going back to last season.

It is 25-9 at home since the start of last season, which might not seem all that bad until you start counting all the wins against the North Floridas and Bethune-Cookmans of the college basketball world.

You think the Pitt program has taken a hard fall?

Pitt went 149-12 in its first nine seasons at Petersen Events Center.

"You can't lose home games," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said, quickly adding, "You can't lose any games."

Pitt is doing it with some regularity all of a sudden. Again, we are not used to watching it. It has been the winningest team in the Big East for the past 12 seasons.

But Pitt went 5-13 in the conference last season and is off to a 1-3 start now. You don't have to be a math major to know that's a 6-16 record in league games.

This latest loss was hard to see coming. Pitt played its best game in a long time Tuesday night at Georgetown in a 73-45 blowout win. It did everything right. It looked like it could be something of a contender for the Big East championship in its final season in the league before it moves on to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Not so much Saturday.

Pitt looked very much like a team that will miss the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season after a 10-year run.

Who knows? Maybe Pitt would have beaten Marquette if it hadn't lost guard Tray Woodall with concussion-like symptoms just 3 1/2 minutes into the game after he knocked heads with Marquette's Derrick Wilson when they were chasing a loose ball.

He had played a strong game at Georgetown, maybe his best of the season.

"Losing Woodall completely changes the complexion of their team," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.

Give Williams a little credit. He didn't mention that Marquette had to play without one of its top players -- guard Junior Cadougan -- for much of the game because of a sprained ankle.

Marquette beat Pitt fair and square.

The same issues that haunted Pitt in its conference losses at home against Cincinnati and at Rutgers were there again. Pitt played poor defense in the first half, allowing Marquette to shoot 61.1 percent. It was outrebounded for the game, 38-33. Its guards had a tough time matching up with the quickness of Marquette's Vander Blue. "They beat us off the dribble too many times," Dixon said.

Pitt took bad shots, especially in overtime. It made just 13 of 26 free throws.

"Usually, it comes down to rebounding," Dixon said. "The rebounding has to be a constant. We lost three games in the conference and we were outrebounded in all three. That speaks volumes to me."

Pitt's bigs were pushed around by Marquette's Davente Gardner, who made all six of his shots and had eight rebounds.

Talib Zanna, who had been playing well, made just one of nine shots. Dante Taylor had three points and no rebounds in 10 minutes.

Steven Adams blocked four shots but again was no factor offensively, taking and making just two shots. In the four Big East games, Adams has taken just 16 shots.

How can that be for a 7-footer?

"We have the right guys," Dixon said.

"We need to grow quickly and figure out a way to get it done."

Especially at home.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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