Cincinnati's Shaquille Thomas, left, tries to get a hand on the ball controlled by Pitt's Durand Johnson in the first half of the Panthers' loss to the Bearcats Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- It is not often that a Jamie Dixon-coached Pitt team gets physically beaten, but that's exactly what happened Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden when the Panthers lost, 44-43, against Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic.
In fact, Dixon's Pitt teams have become synonymous with hard-nosed defense, strong rebounding and the ability to physically overmatch opponents, and it is the formula the Panthers have used to become a consistent participant in the NCAA tournament.
That's likely why Dixon and his players were a bit stunned in a postgame news conference when they were asked about how a Pitt team got so thoroughly beaten on the glass as the Bearcats outrebounded them, 35-27, overall and 16-8 on the offensive boards.
"We came out wanting to outrebound them and we got outrebounded by a large margin, there is no other way to put it," Dixon said. "It is a bit disappointing, but we will get back to work on rebounding. We have work to do. We did not handle their physicality well, and that is also disappointing.
"They were more aggressive, and that was evident from the rebounds to the fouls. They were more aggressive and physical. Their guards were physical, and they beat us to the glass."
Cincinnati (8-2), which has won three of the past four games in this series, was reeling after a blowout loss Saturday against crosstown rival Xavier. The Bearcats said after that game they were extremely motivated to get a big win and wipe that bad taste out of their mouths.
It was no secret to them that the formula to beat Pitt (10-1) was the same one they used in recent years, which is just be more physical than the Panthers and rebound.
"The last three or four games we were able to beat Pitt because we outrebounded them," forward Justin Jackson said. "That was our main focus, to make sure they didn't get many free throws, open shots or layups and make sure we outrebounded them, and we did."
Cincinnati's rebounding is a source of pride for coach Mick Cronin, who said all those offensive rebounds are no coincidence but, rather, are a product of his team running its offense well and attacking the offensive boards the right way.
He pointed out that the Bearcats missed 33 shots (they were 20 of 53 against the Panthers) yet got 16 offensive rebounds and that led to a solid, 30-16 edge in inside points.
"We didn't score a lot of points, but that was the best offense we have run in a long time," Cronin said. "And the proof of that is that we rebounded 49 percent of the missed shots. We got offensive rebounds because they were helping and rotating on defense, because we were executing and passing and that allowed us to get people to the glass and have guys on the weak side in position to grab the rebound.
"You need three guys to offensive rebound, two to take the contact on and one to get the ball, and we did a great job of that all [game]."
Pitt's shooting numbers also proved how physical defense by Cincinnati dictated the flow.
Pitt was 11 of 35 from the field and had two stretches of 11 minutes or longer in which they failed to make a field goal, including one in which they made one field goal in the final 14:50.
The 11 field goals were the fewest by a Pitt team since Feb 8, 1939, when the Panthers managed six in a 41-22 loss against Penn State. And the 35 field-goal attempts were the fewest by a Pitt team in the Dixon era and the fourth fewest in school history. Dixon said Pitt struggled not only because of Cincinnati's defense but also because the Panthers didn't execute as well as they had in their first ten 10 games.
"We are trying to improve on everything and we did do some things better defensively," Dixon said, referring to the fact that the Panthers gave up 44 points and held the Bearcats to 37 percent from the floor, 23 percent from the 3-point line.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise.
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