Pitt's offensive woes were beginning to become a source of concern. The Panthers had not scored more than 70 points in the previous five games before Saturday night's contest against Seton Hall and averaged a meager 60.4 points in that five-game span.
Whether it was some adjustments the Panthers made with their offense in the days leading up to the game, or the fact that Seton Hall is a subpar defensive team, No. 22 Pitt broke out of its slump and scored its most points of the season in an 83-58 thrashing of the Pirates.
The victory comes after four losses in the previous five games and keeps the Panthers (17-6, 7-4) in a tie for fourth place in the Big East.
Gilbert Brown, who did not score in the loss Wednesday at West Virginia, had a game-high 23 points to lead the Panthers. Four other players joined Brown in double figures. Jermaine Dixon had 15, Brad Wanamaker 13, Gary McGhee 12 and Ashton Gibbs 11.
Pitt shot 51.7 percent from the field, its highest percentage in the past 12 games. The Panthers only shot 30 percent from the field and scored 51 points against West Virginia, which was the second-lowest scoring output of the season.
"The main focus was running our motion, setting screens and creating shots for other people," Brown said. "The last couple of games we hadn't been getting many assists on baskets. We had a lot of one-on-one plays. Coach emphasized that the last couple of days and that improved our offense.
"I think we really struggled the last couple of games when our offense was stagnant. You didn't see a lot of movement and that really hurt us. Even in the games we won we got away from what we do best. Tonight was a prime example of what we need to do on offense."
One example of that was in Pitt's assist total. The Panthers had 20 assists on 31 field goals. Pitt had a season-low five assists in the West Virginia game and had only 13 in the previous two games combined.
"I thought we moved the ball better today," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That was something we emphasized the last two days. I think that was the key. That got us going. We were smoother."
Pitt's defense was impressive as well, especially against Jeremy Hazell, the Big East's second-leading scorer. Hazell, who came into the game averaging 23 points per game, was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
"I knew if we stopped him we had a great chance of winning," said senior guard Jermaine Dixon, who was defending Hazell most of the game. "I was hustling and up in him, played physical. And it worked well."
Seton Hall, which averages 77.4 points per game, shot just 36 percent from the field. Aliquippa High School product Herb Pope, who scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds when Seton Hall beat Pitt two weeks ago in New Jersey, was held to nine points and four rebounds before fouling out.
"When Jeremy Hazell gets 32 at Villanova and gets only two today, we're going to struggle," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said.
"We need him and Herb Pope to be in double figures."
Pitt jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first half and led, 37-30, at halftime. Early in the second half, Seton Hall cut the lead to four and was about to force Pitt into a shot clock violation. But Wanamaker made a step-back 3-pointer to turned the momentum back in Pitt's favor with 16:18 remaining.
That was the first of three consecutive 3-pointers for the Panthers, who took a 13-point lead and assumed control of the game.
"That was a huge dagger-momentum play for Pitt," Gonzalez said of Wanamaker's shot. "We played defense for 35 seconds, guarding the heck out of them. Everything was going right for them.
"We got their A-game today. They really defended hard, shot the ball terrific. They played probably as good as they have played all year from what I had seen. They were desperate."
The winter snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow on the region overnight did not keep all of the fans away. An announced crowd of 6,681 ventured through the treacherous conditions to watch the game after the university sent out a morning news release encouraging fans to stay at home.
"We're the only place in the country that tell people not to come and still get 7,000 at the game," Jamie Dixon said. "We can't do anything right marketing-wise. It's amazing. Our fans were great. It says a lot. We needed them today and they responded in an unbelievable way."
NOTES -- Gary McGhee also had 11 rebounds and got his first double-double since Dec. 2 against Duquesne. ... Brad Wanamaker had seven assists and six rebounds to go along with his 13 points. ... Freshman center Dante Taylor scored for the first time in five games. He scored late in the contest and finished with two points and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published February 7, 2010 5:00 AM