Wins have been difficult to come by for the Pitt women's basketball team the past few years, but Sunday's victory sure looked easy.
The Panthers used a 20-0 first-half run to kickstart a 56-43 win against Clemson in front of 3,305 pink-clad fans at Petersen Events Center.
"I couldn't ask for more of an effort defensively, and it created some of our offense," Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. "On the offensive end I thought the difference was we were hitting shots."
The Tigers got the first basket of the game 55 seconds in but failed to score again until the 11:18 mark of the first half. By that point, the Panthers (11-15, 3-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) had scored 20 unanswered and taken a 20-2 lead.
McConnell-Serio said earlier this week that her team is at its best defensively when it's able to score on the other end of the court, and that was the case Sunday. With every basket during the run, the Panthers seemed to gain focus on stopping the Tigers.
"Personally, I said that defense was actually fun," senior forward Asia Logan said. "I enjoyed defense this game."
Despite leading, 33-12, at halftime, the Panthers knew there was still work to be done in the second half. A week ago, Pitt saw a 17-point halftime advantage against Wake Forest evaporate into a 74-70 loss.
"I felt like it was deja vu all over again," McConnell-Serio said. "We had a big lead, and we talked about coming out [for the second half] with the score 0-0."
Sure enough, the Tigers (11-16, 3-10) scored the first six points of the second half to close the gap and force McConnell-Serio to use a timeout less than three minutes in.
"We needed to regroup and just get our focus back so we didn't let what happened a week ago against Wake Forest happen again," McConnell-Serio said.
The closest Clemson came was cutting the deficit to 12 with 13:45 to go, but Pitt immediately answered with a 6-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Ashlee Anderson to restore the big lead.
Point guard Brianna Kiesel, who shot just 2 of 13 in Pitt's 86-50 loss Thursday at North Carolina, bounced back to lead the Panthers with 20 points. Loliya Briggs added 16, including 14 first-half points.
The win -- Pitt's largest against a conference foe since beating Cincinnati, 79-48, Feb. 1, 2011 -- also served as a measure of revenge for the Panthers, who lost Jan. 12 to Clemson, 77-67. McConnell-Serio said having seen the Tigers previously helped them Sunday.
"They always say it's hard to beat a team twice," guard Marquel Davis said. "I think it helped playing them the first time and playing them again. You knew what to expect."
Seniors Davis, Logan and Anderson were honored for senior day before Sunday's game. Pitt has one home game remaining, but the weekend date made it easier for family members to come into town.
The crowd, the Panthers' third largest for a home game this season, was already active to honor the seniors and for Pitt's seventh annual "Pink the Petersen" game for breast cancer awareness. The Panthers' early success got them even more involved in the game.
"That was a great crowd, great atmosphere," McConnell-Serio said. "It was a great day all the way around."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG