NEW YORK -- Pitt and Cincinnati staged an ugly, old-fashioned slugfest Tuesday night which was probably appropriate given that they are old Big East foes and the game was at Madison Square Garden.
And much like many of those games, neither team was able to get the offense going, both teams played physical defense and both teams made every possession a grind.
But an unusual thing happened in this battle of toughness, heart and will -- Pitt lost in all three categories and, as a result, lost the game, 44-43, in the Jimmy V Classic.
"We didn't handle their physicality well at all, and that is disappointing for us," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "They were more physical than we were, they were more aggressive than we were and they were physical at the same time."
Pitt senior forward Lamar Patterson added, "they were more physical today, and we knew that's how they would play but we didn't throw punches back like we are supposed to. Numbers don't lie."
The biggest indication that the Panthers were out-toughed came from the rebounding statistics as Cincinnati outrebounded Pitt, 35-27,including 16-8 on the offensive glass.
"It is hard to believe we were outrebounded like that," Dixon said.
Given the disparity in the offensive rebounding numbers, it was fitting that the winning play by the Bearcats was a putback by Titus Rubles with 4 seconds to play that came off a missed shot by teammate Sean Kilpatrick.
Pitt had a chance with 21 seconds to play to push its lead to three points, but Patterson missed two free throws. The Bearcats got the rebound, then set up their offense, trailing, 43-42, after both coaches called a timeout.
Kilpatrick got the look he wanted but he missed the shot, and the ball came off the rim. Cincinnati forward Justin Jackson tipped it from the strong side to Rubles, who was on the weak side, and Rubles put in a little layup for the lead.
"I have to give credit -- if it wasn't for Justin Jackson, that play wouldn't have happened," Rubles said. "He was the one who made the effort and tipped it to me, after that it was pretty much a layup, and I am just glad it went in."
Pitt had one more chance and possession to win the game but Cameron Wright's halfcourt heave was short as time expired.
Patterson, who was 6 for 7 from the foul line before his two key misses, said that, as the team leader, he should have knocked down the two free throws in order to give the Panthers a wider margin.
"I feel like I lost the game for us," Patterson said. "Not only missing one, but both, I need to make them, I'll take that one on the chin for the team, it is on me."
Wright quickly stepped in and said, "it wasn't Lamar's fault. You don't lose the game on two free throws. There are a lot of possessions. It was a team loss, and you have to give a lot of credit to Cincinnati."
Jackson led Cincinnati with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Asked if he was surprised that a player as good as Patterson missed two crucial free throws like that, he smiled and said "I expected it."
Kilpatrick quickly clarified that, saying the Bearcats defense and physicality wear opponents down so that when they are trying to shoot free throws in clutch situations down the stretch they are tired, so it isn't surprising when one of them misses.
The free-throw numbers, however, were very much in Pitt's favor as the Panthers outscored the Bearcats, 19-1, from the line (Pitt was 19 of 29 and Cincinnati was 1 of 3) and that was a point both coaches said was strange, especially since the team that shot 19 lost.
But beyond the rebounding numbers, the Panthers also had some ugly shooting statistics as they were 11 of 35 from the field (31.4 percent) and only 2 of 13 from the 3-point line (15.4 percent).
The 11 field goals were the fewest by a Pitt team since Feb. 8, 2008 when the Panthers made six in a 41-22 loss against Penn State.
The game Tuesday night was tied, 20-20, at the half, but Pitt scored only 23 points in the second half, the first two halves of basketball this season the Panthers were held to less than 25 points and only the second and third halves that they were held under 30.
"It was one of those days," said Wright.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published December 17, 2013 9:39 PM