MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Here is how bad things have become for Pitt's struggling basketball team. Its losing ways can now be measured by TRWY.
The Ralph Willard Years.
The Panthers lost their sixth consecutive game, 62-57, at Marquette Saturday afternoon to match the longest losing streak since Willard's Panthers endured a six-game slide in the 1997-98 season.
Pitt (11-7, 0-5) remains the only winless team in Big East Conference play, and it will only get tougher for the Panthers Monday night when they visit No. 1 Syracuse.
Coach Jamie Dixon made one lineup change that made a big difference, but it wasn't enough to get his team a victory. Dixon moved senior Ashton Gibbs to shooting guard and inserted redshirt freshman Isaiah Epps at point guard.
Gibbs responded with a career high 29 points and Epps was a calming influence for the most part, but the Panthers blew a halftime lead for the third time in this streak because they continue to turn the ball over against pressure.
"Turnovers let them back in the game," Gibbs said. "They took advantage of the turnovers."
Marquette forced Pitt into 17 turnovers, 10 in the second half when the Golden Eagles erased a five-point halftime deficit. Several came in a crucial stretch when Marquette seized control.
The Panthers had four turnovers in 60 seconds, three by Lamar Patterson, and a 41-38 lead quickly became a 45-41 deficit with 10:02 remaining. It was the first time Marquette had led, and the Golden Eagles then stopped a late rally to keep the Panthers reeling.
"Turnovers have been a problem," Dixon said. "We've tried to get better at it. Those really cost us."
Nasir Robinson had seven turnovers and Patterson had four.
Patterson's turnovers all came in a three-minute stretch when the Golden Eagles went on a 13-0 run that turned the game around.
The Panthers saw a five-point lead turn into an eight-point deficit in a 41/2-minute span the Panthers wish they had back. Marquette had 18 points off Pitt turnovers, and eight came in that crucial stretch.
Pitt scrapped back and made things interesting when Gibbs made a 3-pointer to make it 60-57 with 54 seconds remaining.
But on Marquette's next possession, Davante Gardner grabbed an offensive rebound over Robinson, then made two free throws to put the game out of reach.
Marquette battled Pitt to a tie on the boards, 29-29, mostly because the Panthers played zone for long stretches.
"Down the stretch, we never seemed to get that rebound," Dixon said. "[The zone] was pretty good. It was better. But, again, rebounding is always the issue with the zone. We didn't come up with the long rebounds. And they hit a couple of 3s off those second shots."
Gibbs, who entered the game 4 for 21 from 3-point range in Big East play, made a few 3-pointers of his own as he settled into his natural position at shooting guard. He was 8 for 16 from the field and 4 for 8 from long range. He also made 9 of 10 free throws.
"Yeah, I felt comfortable," Gibbs said. "I was taking what the defense gave me. Isaiah did a good job of passing me the ball up the floor.
"It's something we can look forward to. We were right there. We're a couple of turnovers, a couple of stops away from winning some games."
It has been a while since the Panthers tasted victory -- 25 days, to be exact.
Before this season, Dixon's longest losing streak was three games. He has doubled that total in less than a month, and some of the most challenging games on the schedule lie ahead.
"We're not used to this," Dixon said. "We lost to some good teams, but we've had chances to win. We were up for most of the game.
"You get in foul trouble and then you don't take care of the ball and then at the end of the game we didn't get the rebounds when we had a chance to get possessions.
"The losses are more than we've ever had. Our kids are very disappointed because they played hard. They played well. They just didn't play well enough to win."
NOTES -- Gibbs passed Jason Matthews to become the Panthers' all-time leader in 3-point field goals. He has 261 3-pointers. Matthews had 259 from 1987-91. ... Robinson was the only other Pitt player in double figures with 10 points. ... Darius Johnson-Odom led the Golden Eagles with 18. ... The Golden Eagles shot 45 percent for the game, Pitt 43.5 percent.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published January 15, 2012 5:00 AM