NEW YORK -- Twice this season Pitt had been able to come back from double-digit second-half deficits to win games. The Panthers came back from 13 points down to defeat Wofford in the opener and rallied from 16 down to beat Duquesne in double-overtime last week.
But depending on big comebacks is not a recipe for long-term success, and Pitt found that out in last night's 74-64 setback to Indiana in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Pitt trimmed an Indiana lead to six points in the final minute after falling behind by 17, but was not able to complete another comeback.
"It's happened to us a couple of times," freshman center Dante Taylor said. "We'll be trailing at halftime. We'll talk about how we'll come back. Then we'll come out and mess up a play or two. Teams will take advantage of that. We dig ourselves a deep hole. We'll still try to fight, but sometimes you won't get over the hump."
It was a completely atypical Pitt performance in Madison Square Garden, where the Panthers (7-2) had won 11 of their previous 14 games. They shot 31 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers.
The defense was not much better. Indiana (4-4) shot 44 percent and dominated the middle with 40 points in the paint.
"We got what we really deserved," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We didn't play well. Indiana did."
This performance came against an Indiana team that came into the game with a 3-4 record. One of those losses came against a 3-6 Boston University team. It was only last season that the Hoosiers were 6-25 and the worst team in the Big Ten.
But they managed to have their way against the Panthers. For long stretches of the game the Hoosiers dominated play.
"Defensively, we have to strap up," said sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, who scored a career-high 25 points. "We have to play tougher, especially down the stretch. Our offense comes from our defense and rebounding."
Indiana penetrated freely against Pitt's guards all game. The Hoosiers got to the free-throw line 34 times and converted 25 of those attempts. Verdell Jones, who came into the game averaging 11 points a game, scored 20 and got to the line eight times. Christian Watford got to the line 15 times and scored 12 of his 18 points from the charity stripe.
"It's been a problem all season," said junior guard Brad Wanamaker, who scored 18 points. "Guys are getting beat off the dribble. We're not keeping people in front of us. Our rotation just hasn't been there. It's something we have to work on. We talk about it, but we don't do it."
Pitt's offense provided little help until it was too late. The Panthers went without a field goal for a seven-minute stretch early in the second half when Indiana seized control of the game. That was preceded by long stretches of offensive futility in the first half. The Panthers went 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal midway through the first half and did not have a field goal in the 4:28 before halftime.
But no one wanted to talk about the offensive problems after the game. It always came back to the defense.
"I'm not concerned about the offense," Taylor said. "I'm more concerned about the defense. We're letting teams score too easily. We're not taking pride in defense. We need to put our foot down, stand up and play defense."
The game marked the return of senior guard Jermaine Dixon, who missed the first eight games of the season with a foot injury. But Dixon's return did little to help his teammates. He was 0 for 2 from the field and di not score in 13 minutes.
"We have some work to do," Jamie Dixon said. "We understand that. The players understand that."
NOTES -- Pitt has lost three consecutive games against Big Ten competition after winning 10 in a row... won 11 of their past 13 games against Big Ten foes... Pitt football alum Curtis Martins and Darrelle Revis sat behind the Pitt bench.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.