Panthers are outhustled, outrebounded in worst slump since 2001
Jermaine Dixon is surrounded by West Virginia defenders, including Dan Jennings and Cam Thoroughman, Wednesday night. Dixon and Pitt found little breathing room, especially late in the second half when the Mountaineers pulled away.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The last time the Pitt men's basketball team lost four times in a five-game span, Kordell Stewart was the Steelers' quarterback and Mario Lemieux had just unretired for the Penguins. It was late January and early February 2001, and the Panthers were under the guidance of second-year coach Ben Howland.
It took nine years for Pitt to reach those depths again, but it occurred Wednesday night after No. 22 Pitt fell to No. 6 West Virginia, 70-51, at the WVU Coliseum.
After starting the Big East schedule with five consecutive victories, the Panthers are 6-4 in league play heading into Saturday night's game against Seton Hall.
To add insult to injury, West Virginia (18-3, 7-2 Big East) beat the Panthers (16-6 overall) the way they used to beat people. The Mountaineers outworked and outhustled Pitt in every aspect. They won the rebounding battle, 45-31. Their 19 offensive rebounds led to 20 second-chance points.
The Mountaineers were just as tenacious defending the Panthers, who shot just 30 percent from the field, including a 20 percent (6 for 30) effort in the second half.
"They played hard. That's why they won the game," senior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "They outworked us."
Dixon, the only senior starter on the team, said the Panthers did not put forth the type of effort needed against an arch-rival.
"We had some lapses," he said. "It was our effort. We didn't play hard. We let them set the tone early."
Da'Sean Butler led West Virginia with 18 points. Kevin Jones added 16 points and Devin Ebanks had seven points and a team-high 16 rebounds. Ebanks had six of the Mountaineers' 19 offensive rebounds.
"That's not in the Pitt tradition," sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs said of the Panthers being dominated on the glass. "That's not Pitt basketball. That's something we have to get back to doing."
Pitt has been beaten on the boards in the past three games after being outrebounded only once in the first 18 contests.
"They're a good rebounding team and we're a good rebounding team," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But we weren't a good rebounding team tonight."
Despite the discrepancy in rebounding and Pitt's poor shooting percentage, the game was closer than the final score indicated. After trailing by six at halftime, Pitt trimmed the lead to 43-41 with 12:53 remaining. It appeared that the game's momentum had swung in favor of the visitors.
But just as fast as the Panthers got back into the game, the Mountaineers took back control. West Virginia scored 10 of the next 12 points to restore a 10-point lead and resume control of the game.
After Pitt cut the lead to two points, the Panthers missed their next 10 shots from the field. They did not make a field goal again until 4:47 remained.
But by that time, West Virginia led by 11.
The game was disrupted twice in the second half by some unruly West Virginia fans who threw bottles and T-shirts onto the floor with 12:10 remaining. That prompted West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to address the crowd. He requested that anyone who witnessed spectators throwing objects onto the court point them out so security personnel could eject them.
Later, during a timeout, Pitt associate head coach Tom Herrion was hit in his face by a coin. That resulted in a technical foul on West Virginia.
"He's all right," Jamie Dixon said of Herrion. "We're not going to make a big deal about it."
The fan behavior at WVU Coliseum has been an issue more than a week after spectators directed vulgarities at opposing coaches and players in two nationally televised games, against Ohio State and Louisville. Those games prompted the university administration to ask students to tone down their behavior.
Jermaine Dixon, playing on a sprained right ankle, led the Panthers with 13 points. Ashton Gibbs had 11, but his shooting slump continued. He was 2 for 13 from the field and is now 22 for his last 80.
Brad Wanamaker and Gil Brown, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, were held without a point.
NOTES -- Freshman center J.J. Richardson scored seven points in 14 minutes off the bench. Richardson played in place of fellow freshman Dante Taylor, who was pulled after six minutes because of poor defense. Taylor did not score for the fourth consecutive game. ... Pitt was 2 for 10 from 3-point range.
First Published February 4, 2010 12:00 am