PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Pitt's recent formula for winning won't prevent coach Jamie Dixon from going gray as the Panthers won't get many style points for their late-game execution. But each of the victories in their modest three-game winning streak has unveiled new qualities the coach has to like, most notably the clutch play he has been receiving from his starting backcourt.
Dixon received some big plays down the stretch from Tray Woodall and James Robinson in Pitt's 68-64 victory Tuesday night against Providence at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Dixon has come to expect game-changing plays from senior guard Woodall, but he continues to be buoyed by the playmaking abilities of Robinson and another freshman who also came through against the Friars.
The two biggest shots came from freshman point guard Robinson, who stepped to the free-throw line with nine seconds remaining and his team clinging to a two-point lead. Robinson made both free throws to preserve the victory after the Friars trimmed a 10-point deficit to two in the final two minutes.
"What he does never shows up in that sheet," Woodall said. "But as you could see, he was in there poised and knocked down the two free throws we needed. That's the guy we're used to. He's not a guy who's going to have big numbers, but he's going to go out there and have a big heart. He stepped up and knocked them down."
Those were the only two free throws of the game for Robinson, who otherwise struggled with one field goal, no assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes.
Robinson made the biggest shot in Pitt's 69-61 victory Saturday against Connecticut, sinking a 3-pointer after the Huskies rallied to tie the score late in that game.
Woodall made another big play on Pitt's previous possession to keep the Friars at arm's length. With Pitt clinging to a three-point lead, Woodall drove past freshman guard Kris Dunn and nailed a foul-line jumper for a 66-61 lead with 18 seconds left.
"Coach put the ball in my hands," Woodall said. "In the huddle, he said get the ball and make a decision. I had a freshman guarding me. Most of the time when I have a freshman guarding me I like to take advantage of that."
Woodall is used to being a pain to the Friars. Two years ago, Pitt trailed late in a game at the Dunkin Donuts Center, but Woodall made a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to give the Panthers a one-point lead on their way to an 83-79 win.
The Panthers could make things a lot easier on themselves and their coach if they figured out a way to close out games more effectively, but no one is complaining. The victory against the Friars put Pitt (16-4, 4-3 Big East) in a fourth-place tie with Cincinnati in the conference. The Panthers will look to extend their winning streak to four games Saturday against DePaul.
The script was a familiar one. Get a lead and hold on for dear life. Pitt lost a five-point lead at Villanova before scoring the final 15 points to win that road game. Against Connecticut Saturday, Pitt blew a 13-point halftime lead before pulling that game out late.
Twice in the second half, Providence whittled 10-point deficits to two. On the first occasion, after a LaDontae Henton 3-pointer made it 51-49 with 7:31 remaining, freshman reserve Durand Johnson made a 3-pointer to give Pitt some breathing room. It was his first and only shot of the game.
"I don't have to tell Durand to shoot," Dixon said. "He's going to shoot. That was a big play."
Johnson didn't have much playing time to get any other shots because Lamar Patterson played so well in front of him. Patterson led the Panthers with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. He was 7 for 10 from the field and scored 11 of his points in the first half when the Panthers raced to a 34-27 halftime lead.
"Durand is making Lamar play better," Dixon said. "Those two going at it, and the way Durand has played in practice is making Lamar better."
Pitt shot 51 percent and took advantage of Providence's sloppy play to score 20 points off the Friars' 16 turnovers. The Panthers needed the strong offensive performance because they had no answer for Bryce Cotton, the Big East's leading scorer, who had 24 points and made a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to trim the lead to two before Robinson's free throws.
The Friars shot 47 percent for the game and also received 17 points and nine rebounds from center Kadeem Batts.
"Our offense carried us the whole game," Dixon said. "We don't want to rely on offense to win on the road, but that's the way it was. I would like to defend better for 40 minutes and rebound better. But we never lost a lead on the road. I'll take that."
NOTES -- Patterson was the only Pitt player to score in double figures. ... Providence had 13 offensive rebounds and benefited from Pitt starting center Steven Adams only playing 18 minutes. ... After getting to the line 48 times against Villanova Saturday, the Friars only got to the line 10 times Tuesday night. ... Pitt, which entered the game 13th in the league in free-throw shooting, struggled again at the line, going 12 for 21.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published January 23, 2013 5:00 AM