Panthers unable to solve Golden Eagles

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MILWAUKEE -- Pride did not allow players from Pitt to concede that Marquette is simply a bad matchup for the Panthers. Competitors never accept that an opponent has a mastery over them.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, there is ample evidence that says otherwise.

No. 18 Marquette sliced and diced No. 16 Pitt like no other team had this season en route to a 79-69 victory at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles swept the season series and dealt a crippling blow to Pitt's hopes of winning the Big East Conference regular-season championship in its final season in the league.

Pitt (20-6, 8-5) fell into a tie for fifth place heading into a home game Monday night against No. 21 Notre Dame (20-6, 8-5). Marquette (18-6, 9-3) moved into a tie for first place with Georgetown (19-4, 9-3) and Syracuse (21-4, 9-3).

Marquette scored more points than any other team had against Pitt this season. It was the third time the Panthers gave up 70 points in a game this season and the second time Marquette did the deed, although it took the Golden Eagles an overtime period in the first meeting to get there.

The 10-point margin of victory also represented the largest margin of defeat in a game this season.

"I think if I were to say our best performance on the road in Big East play would be at Pitt and I'd say our best performance at home in a Big East game thus far would be Pitt," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "They're one of the top two or three teams in our league."

That might turn out to be true, but it was hard to tell Saturday. Marquette needed overtime to beat Pitt Jan. 12 at Petersen Events Center, but the Golden Eagles dominated from the outset in the rematch.

Marquette jumped to a 13-point halftime lead, boosted that lead to 18 in the early stages of the second half and was never threatened by the Panthers, who failed to execute the game plan coach Jamie Dixon had put before them.

Dixon emphasized three things in the week leading up to the game. He wanted the Panthers to hold Marquette under 40 percent shooting. He wanted the Panthers to win the rebound battle. And he wanted to keep the Golden Eagles off the free-throw line.

Marquette shot 56.5 percent (26 for 46) from the field, won the rebounding by nine (33-24) and got to the free-throw line 29 times, converting 22

"A 10-point loss is pretty easy to see given those numbers," Dixon said.

The 56.5 number is by far the highest percent an opponent has shot against the Panthers this season. Rutgers (51 percent) is the only other opponent to shoot more than 50 percent.

Only Rutgers outrebounded the Panthers by a bigger margin and only Cincinnati got to the free-throw line more often.

"We just gave up a lot of easy baskets," said junior forward Lamar Patterson, who led the Panthers with 19 points. "They got layup after layup. It's hard to win games when teams are getting layups and outrebounding us."

Marquette made 16 of 26 shots (61.5 percent) in the first half en route to a 42-29 lead at the intermission. The Golden Eagles finished the half on a 14-4 run over the final five minutes.

Guard Vander Blue scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left before halftime to boost the lead to 13 and give the Golden Eagles the momentum going into the locker room.

Blue was 7 for 8 from the field and added 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

In two games against Pitt this season, Blue was 13 for 20 and tallied 41 points.

"He's a good player," Patterson said. "He got off on us twice now. We had to make it harder on him, get in his face and not make it so easy."

Three other players also reached double figures for Marquette. Reserve center Davantae Gardner had 14 points. Jamil Wilson had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Trent Lockett added 11 points.

The Panthers were able to keep the game semi-competitive by shooting 44 percent in the second half, but the only time the lead was cut to single digits was in the final minute when the Golden Eagles had let up on the gas.

"We were staying in it with our offense and not our defense," Dixon said. "It caught up to us as the game went on."

NOTES -- Pitt's starting frontcourt of Steven Adams and Talib Zanna combined for eight points. ... Adams, who scored 13 points in a victory last week at Cincinnati, was 2 for 5 from the field and scored four points. ... Zanna was 1 for 4 and also scored four. ... The Panthers had only eight turnovers, but Marquette converted those into 14 points. ... Marquette, which entered the game last in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage, was 5 for 11 from behind the arc. ... Pitt was 7 for 21 from 3-point range. ... Marquette extended its home winning streak to 23 consecutive games.

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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