Pitt claims share of Big East title with win at South Florida
South Florida forward Ron Anderson Jr., fouls Pitt's Dante Taylor while crashing into Pitt's Nasir Robinson during the first half of Wednesday's game in Tampa, Fla.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe Jamie Dixon should substitute the halftime speech for the pregame speech. That way, the Panthers might finally play a complete game again.
It was yet another slow start followed by a fast finish for the fourth-ranked Panthers, who surged ahead in the second half for a 66-50 victory Wednesday night against South Florida at the Sun Dome.
The victory clinched at least a share of the Big East regular-season championship. It's the first Big East regular-season championship in seven years and the sixth in school history. The Panthers (26-4, 14-3) can claim the title outright Saturday with a victory against Villanova in the regular-season finale, or if Notre Dame loses at Connecticut.
"One win to be outright champs," senior center Gary McGhee said. "It's the last game for me, Gilbert and Brad at home. There's going to be a lot of energy in the building. We're just going to go out there and get the win and get the hats and T-shirts."
It is Jamie Dixon's second Big East regular-season championship. He won the title outright in his rookie season in 2003-04.
"It's the toughest conference in the country," Dixon said. "That's a pretty good accomplishment. No one has ever been the champion of a conference with 11 NCAA tournament bids. No one has ever been a champion of a conference with nine NCAA tournament bids. That puts it in perspective right there. We had to beat a lot of good people. No one has had to beat as many good people as we've had to beat."
Pitt still has a lot to play for Saturday in terms of seeding. The Panthers need a win or a Notre Dame loss to be the No. 1 seed at the Big East tournament, and they likely need a win to hang onto a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It was the fourth time in the past five victories that the Panthers had to overcome a halftime deficit. South Florida led, 27-24, at halftime after frustrating the Panthers with a matchup zone in the first half. It was the sixth time in seven games the Panthers were held to 30 points or fewer in the first half.
The Panthers shot just 34 percent in the first 20 minutes, but in the second half they shot 61 percent, making 10 of their first 11 shots from the field. They played inside-out, with some easy inside baskets paving the way for outside shooting lanes for Pitt's perimeter players.
"We played with a lot more energy in the second half," McGhee said. "We executed our plays and we knocked down shots."
Nasir Robinson led the Panthers with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Ashton Gibbs added 16 and Gilbert Brown had 10.
Robinson was 6 for 8 from the field and 6 for 9 from the line after a three-point, five-turnover performance Sunday in the loss at Louisville.
"I feel like I had a bad game against Louisville," Robinson said. "I let my team down. I just wanted to bounce back and have a good game. I just wanted to play aggressive and go out there and try to make plays."
Gibbs was 6 for 9 and 4 for 6 from 3-point range after making just 3 for 11 shots against Louisville. Gibbs made three of his four 3-pointers in a span of a little more than two minutes in the second half to help the Panthers pull away.
"We forgot who he was in the second half and he lit us up," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "I thought he was the difference in the second half against the zone. Why we left him I have no idea. I wish I could figure that out."
While the juniors carried the team in the scoring it was a big night for the seniors. The victory was No. 109 for Brown, McGhee and Brad Wanamaker. They are four victories away from setting the school record for most victories by a senior class. The 2008-09 class of Sam Young, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs recorded 112 victories.
Wanamaker became the second player in school history to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 400 assists. Wanamaker completed the rare accomplishment with a rebound four minutes into the game. Carl Krauser is the only other player to accomplish that feat.
NOTES -- Brown is five points shy of 1,000. He'll try to become the 40th Pitt player to reach 1,000 points Saturday. ... The Panthers finished 7-2 record on the road in Big East play, which is more conference road victories than any other team in school history. ...With a victory Saturday, the Panthers can tie a school record for best conference record. The Panthers were 15-3 in the 2008-09 season, when they advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. ... Pitt improved to 5-3 in the series against South Florida and has won four of the past five.
First Published March 3, 2011 1:09 am