Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was willing to let a lackluster shooting performance slide because his team posted a big rebounding advantage against Seton Hall Saturday night.
"Obviously," Dixon said, "24 is a big number."
Pitt's big rebounding advantage included 19 more offensive rebounds and was largely responsible for the Panthers' 74-53 victory against Seton Hall at the Petersen Events Center.
The fifth-ranked Panthers (17-1, 4-1 Big East) had a slightly better shooting percentage than Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) and took 21 more shots than the Pirates.
"I think we did a good job crashing the offensive glass and getting extra shots," said senior center Gary McGhee, whose 13 points tied a career high. He grabbed 10 rebounds to pick up his eighth career double-double and fifth this season.
Junior guard Ashton Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer entering the game, struggled with a 3-for-13 shooting performance and finished with 8 points. But the Panthers made up for Gibbs' off night with balance and bench scoring. Nine players scored five or more points for the Panthers, who got 31 points from reserves.
The Panthers held Seton Hall star guard Jeremy Hazell to 9 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Hazell, who injured his wrist in November and was shot in a robbery on Christmas, failed to score in double figures for the fourth time in five career games against Pitt. It was his second game back after missing 13.
"We knew going in, when he came back, he was going to have some nights where, at least for the first couple weeks, he's going to have some 3 for 13s," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. "You don't take two months off and stay at a very high level."
Dixon said stopping Hazell was the key to Pitt's strategy.
"I felt if he could get it going, that would be their best chance," Dixon said. "We did a good job."
The game served as a homecoming for Seton Hall junior forward Herb Pope, an Aliquippa High School graduate. Pope, whose career nearly ended in April when he was hospitalized with a rare heart condition, led the Pirates with 15 points.
"It felt great, emotionally, just to see my child and my family members in the crowd," Pope said. "But I just had to put that behind me and come out and play."
It was also a homecoming for Willard, the first-year coach at Seton Hall, who played three seasons for the Panthers in the mid-1990s.
"I had a lot of great memories here," he said. "I met my wife."
After trailing, 33-18, at halftime, Seton Hall never pulled closer than 13 in the second half.
Pitt had two fewer offensive rebounds (12) than Seton Hall had total rebounds (14) in the first half, and the Panthers used that advantage to take 13 more shots than the Pirates.
Both teams struggled from the field early, combining to shoot 7 for 29 through the first six minutes.
The win sets up a top-5 showdown between Pitt and fourth-ranked Syracuse Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.
NOTES -- With the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens playing a few miles away, only 9,236 attended Pitt's win. It was the smallest home crowd for Pitt in Big East competition since the last time Pitt played host to Seton Hall Feb. 6, 2010. Then, a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow on the city that day and 6,681 attended the game. ... The last time Pitt played against a team coached by an alumnus was March 26, 2009, when the Panthers beat Sean Miller's Xavier squad, 60-55, in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. ... New Pitt football coach Todd Graham spoke to the crowd at halftime. In a speech fit for a pep rally, Graham told fans he planned to win a national title with the Panthers and unveiled a newly purchased Oakland Zoo T-shirt. "We're going to restore the Beast from the East," Graham said to a rousing applause.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com or 412-263-1722.