Fifth loss in a row stunning
Nasir Robinson struggles to get a shot off against Rutgers Wednesday.
Talib Zanna, right, gets tied up with Rutgers' Gilvydas Biruta going for a rebound in the second half of Pitt's 62-39 loss to the Scarlet Knights at Petersen Events Center.
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It would be encouraging to think that things could not get any worse for Pitt after losing to Rutgers, 62-39, Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers lost their fifth consecutive game and remain the only team in the Big East Conference without a league victory.
But here's the bad news for the Panthers: They haven't even played a ranked opponent yet.
That comes Saturday afternoon at No. 25 Marquette, the first of three consecutive games against ranked foes.
This latest loss came in embarrassing fashion. Rutgers, a team that previously lost to South Florida, Princeton and Illinois State, held Pitt to its lowest point total in 38 years and its lowest point total in a home game in 61 years.
The Panthers scored 36 points in a game against Rutgers in 1973, but that game was stopped at halftime by a sit-in by Rutgers fans. Rutgers considers that game a forfeit and does not list a final score in its media guide. Pitt lists the game as a 36-21 victory.
The lowest point total for the Panthers in a game that was completed was a 53-30 loss to Temple in January 1969.
Only a J.J. Moore 3-pointer with three seconds remaining helped head coach Jamie Dixon avoid the most lopsided loss of his career when Pitt lost at Dayton by 25 points in 2006.
This one came at home in a building where the Panthers had been almost unbeatable before this season. They have now lost three in a row at home, and this one was by far the largest margin of defeat in the 10-year history of the building.
Rutgers and Louisville previously beat Pitt by 13 at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt fans probably felt like staging a halftime protest, but they showed their displeasure by leaving the building in droves before the final buzzer. Most of the 10,812 patrons were out of the parking lots and heading home when the game was officially over.
Here's how ugly it was:
• Pitt was 12 for 57 from the field (21.1 percent). Two of those field goals came in the final 36 seconds, and the Panthers only had four field goals in the first half.
• No Pitt players scored in double figures. Senior guard Ashton Gibbs was the high scorer with eight points, and he was 2 for 11 from the field, 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
• Pitt, the No. 1 team in NCAA Division I in rebounding margin, was crushed on the boards, 51-35.
"The kids are extremely disappointed," Dixon said. "For our fans, we're sorry for the way we played."
The Scarlet Knights, with three freshmen starters, pounded the Panthers from the outset. In the previous four games of this losing streak, the Panthers held a lead or were tied in three of them.
The Panthers had no hope of winning this game at halftime, and it showed in the players' body language as they walked off the floor to the locker room.
They were 4 for 32 from the field in the first half. Many of those shots failed to hit the rim.
If not for a sluggish half from Rutgers, the deficit would have been much larger than the 30-19 score.
"They knew a lot of our plays," Gibbs said, referencing the fact that Rice and his associate head coach, David Cox, spent a season together on Dixon's staff in 2006-07. "They switched off on screens. They did a good job of scouting us."
The first half was a comedy of errors. Pitt had no answers for the Rutgers defense, which just a week ago gave up 85 points in a loss to West Virginia.
When they weren't generating quality shots, they turned the ball over, throwing passes out of bounds or at the feet of teammates. For a team that led the nation in offensive efficiency last season, the Panthers had a hard time completing passes much less making shots.
The most disheartening aspect of the loss had to be the rebound differential. The Panthers take pride in beating opponents on the boards, but the Scarlet Knights dominated underneath. They had 32 points in the paint, 19 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points.
"They played harder than us," Gibbs said. "That was evident."
The Scarlet Knights made Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the year, look like he was a rookie again.
Actually, Gibbs never looked this bad as a freshman.
Gibbs had a hard time even getting a shot out of his hand in the first half. He was 0 for 4 and had three turnovers. Fellow senior Nasir Robinson one-upped Gibbs' first-half performance by going 0 for 5 from the field with three turnovers.
Rice was asked afterward if knowing Dixon's system was beneficial.
"We run half of what they run," Rice said. "They're good plays, good sets. Our switching defense didn't let Ashton get any good looks."
Dixon described the mood of the team after the game.
"The locker room was silent," he said. "We're not playing anywhere near the way we should be playing."
No fun with numbers
39 Points scored are the fewest by a Pitt team since Dec. 4, 1973, when the Panthers scored 36 -- also vs. Rutgers -- but in a 36-21 victory.
36.9 Percent shooting from the field for Pitt in its first four Big East games after going 12 for 57 (21.1) Wednesday.
0-4 Record in the Big East -- the Panthers' first 0-4 start since 1999-2000 under Ben Howland.
First Published January 12, 2012 12:00 am