Ron Cook: Pitt's woes are magnified at home



Remember when opposing teams came into Petersen Events Center and were intimidated?

Remember when every game in the beautiful building was virtually a guaranteed win for Pitt?

I can't, either.

It's probably good that sinking-fast Pitt is headed on the road to games at Boston College Wednesday night and Saturday at Notre Dame. It no longer rolls over opponents at home, the latest proof a hideous 71-66 loss Sunday night to Florida State. It was Pitt's fourth loss in its past five home games with the only win coming against Virginia Tech -- the ACC's worst team -- in double overtime. Pitt was 192-22 at Petersen Events Center before the home slide.

"I was really looking forward to playing this game here," coach Jamie Dixon said. "I know we're better than this."

Pitt was 6-1 in ACC play before its free fall began when it was blown out in the second half Jan. 27 in a home loss to Duke. It then lost home games to Virginia and Syracuse at the buzzer, crushing defeats to say the least. But this latest loss was the worst loss. Florida State came in with a 15-11 record, 6-8 in the ACC.

Pitt's resume for the NCAA tournament continues to get weaker and weaker. It's not just its five losses in the past seven games, which have left it with an 8-6 ACC record. It hasn't beaten a really good team and won't have a chance to do so before the ACC tournament. Now, it no longer can say it doesn't have a bad loss.

Pitt won't make the NCAAs unless Dixon finds a way to cure its many problems.

Quickly.

"We're not playing well," Dixon said. "We've got to get that changed. I told the guys, 'We've got to get that changed.' We've got to go do something about it."

Eight days between games was supposed to give Pitt a big lift. It gave Dixon extra practice time. He loves practice, more than games, I believe. But Pitt came out and played just as poorly as it had been.

"We certainly didn't play like we practiced. That's something that can't happen," Dixon said. "I thought our defense let us down early, then our offense let us down in the second half. We've got to play better. There's nothing else you can say."

Pitt's performance wasn't the only disappointing part of the night. The atmosphere was lousy. There were plenty of empty seats in the Oakland Zoo. It was so bad that adults were moved down into the lower bowl, presumably for aesthetic purposes with ESPNU cameras on site.

Florida State hit its first two shots to take a 5-0 lead. The crowd never did get into the game after that. Much of the night, the only sounds to be heard were ohs and ahs when Pitt missed a shot, something it did often. At one point in the second half, there were mock cheers after Pitt's Talib Zanna made a free throw. Pitt had missed its previous five shots from the line.

It's funny, Pitt likes to call Petersen Events Center "the best basketball arena in the world."

It was anything but for this game.

"We've got to play better," Dixon said.

That was his story and he is sticking to it.

Pitt continues to struggle to score. Lamar Patterson had 22 points but needed 21 shots to get them. He made four 3-pointers in the final 1:30, but the game was pretty much over by then.

Pitt continues to struggle to finish inside. It had 14 offensive rebounds but just nine second-chance points. Bigs Michael Young and Zanna combined to make 1 of 8 shots.

"[Finishing] is something that's been a concern of ours," Dixon said. "I think our offense -- missing shots and struggling offensively -- is hurting other parts of our game. When you miss shots you should make, you become impatient. We're lacking patience."

Pitt shot 37 percent for the game. It was almost as bad at the free-throw line, making just 18 of 28 shots. Florida State won the game at the line, making 27 of 31.

Going on the road really might be what Pitt needs. Boston College is awful, although it did win Wednesday night at Syracuse. Notre Dame is awful, although it has beaten Pitt in five consecutive games and six of the past seven. There's a home game against North Carolina State March 3 before the final regular-season game March 8 at Clemson. If Pitt doesn't want to sweat out an NCAA tournament bid, it had better win at least three of the four games. And it can't lose to Boston College, a 7-20 team.

You might guess Dixon's response to all of this.

"We've got to play better."

Dixon was right.

There is nothing else to say.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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