Pitt's second half was a weak, disappointing effort

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You might imagine Jamie Dixon's mood Monday afternoon. His Pitt team had just been embarrassed at home in the second half by Cincinnati in a 70-61 loss in its first game of its final season in the Big East Conference. Pitt was outshot, outrebounded, outworked, outhustled and outpoised down the stretch, prompting Dixon to mutter, "I can't ever remember us being up eight points at halftime and playing like that in the second half."

Are you getting the idea the man wasn't happy?

Well, Dixon's demeanor quickly soured when he was asked about Pitt's absurdly weak non-conference schedule. Specifically, he was asked how so many games against North Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State and Kennesaw State get Pitt ready for strong Big East teams such as Cincinnati.

"That question has been asked every year of every team in our league for the past 10 years," Dixon fairly growled. "We've had the best record in conference play over those 10 years so that should tell you something. When you win, no one says anything. When you lose, it's easy to find reasons. But it's hard for me to say what happened a month-and-a-half ago had anything to do with today. I don't think it caused us to miss free throws or be outrebounded. We just didn't get it done."

I beg to disagree.

Pitt came in with a 12-1 record, its loss against the only legitimate non-conference opponent it played. It wilted down the stretch in a 67-62 loss to Michigan Nov. 21 in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Dixon isn't entirely to blame for Pitt's lame schedule. It didn't get a game it thought it would play in the SEC-Big East Challenge because Big East officials punished Pitt for leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference. It also thought it might get a game against Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-off, but Virginia was upset by Delaware.

Still, reality is Cincinnati came in as a much more experienced team with a starting lineup featuring three seniors and a fourth-year junior going against a Pitt team that started freshmen Steven Adams and James Robinson. Cincinnati also was much more tested because of a non-conference schedule that included games against Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Xavier and New Mexico. Its only loss was at home last week to New Mexico.

Couldn't that be a reason Pitt was outrebounded by nine in the second half after outrebounding Cincinnati by four in the first half?

Couldn't that be a reason Pitt missed all 10 of its 3-point shots in the game?

Couldn't that be a reason Cincinnati made 16 of 19 free throws in the second half while Pitt made just 5 of 11? It should be pointed out Pitt's Travon Woodall - a fifth-year senior - missed the first of a one-on-one with 1:27 left and Pitt trailing, 62-59. It's pretty hard to blame inexperience for that miss.

"We were prepared," Woodall would say later. "Obviously, the Big East is different than our non-conference opponents, but our guys were prepared. The coaches did a great job with us in practice."

Again, I beg to disagree.

The good news is Pitt should get better as Adams and Robinson improve. Each had moments against Cincinnati. Each failed at times.

Adams, a 7-footer, had nine rebounds but just one in the second half when he played only 10 minutes because of foul trouble. What was alarming was he didn't take a shot. Not one.

"We ran a lot of sets to get him the ball," Dixon said. "We just didn't execute well enough. We didn't get him the ball in the right spots."

Some of that has to fall on Robinson, a point guard. He handled Cincinnati's ferocious press extremely well, committing just one turnover. But he had only two assists, made just one of his five shots in the second half and missed two free throws with 7:48 left and Pitt down, 52-45.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was especially impressed with Robinson.

"[He] plays like he's 30, and I mean that as a compliment. He's very poised. To play against us like that and have only one turnover, that's very impressive."

Robinson is going to be a great one. Some around the Pitt program have said he has a chance to be its best point guard. "He was the winningest player at DeMatha Catholic ... That's enough for me," Cronin said.

But what Robinson brought Monday wasn't good enough for Pitt. What his teammates brought wasn't good enough. Clearly, they weren't ready for the big step up in competition.

Dixon would acknowledge only this much:

"To get totally outplayed in the second half is something that we don't usually do. It's disappointing in every way."

Now there's something we can agree on.

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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