Pitt Men: Panthers outlast No. 3 Villanova
Pitt's Jermaine Dixon drives to the basket against Villanova in the first half Sunday.
The Pitt bench starts to get antsy as Ashton Gibbs hits free throws late in the second half Sunday against Villanova.
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Shannon Dixon, 5, is like most people who attend Pitt home games. She sees her father roaming the sideline with a stern look on his face, working the officials and screaming at his players, never seeming to enjoy himself.
That all changed Sunday when young Shannon actually saw her father crack a smile after No. 19 Pitt defeated No. 3 Villanova, 70-65, at Petersen Events Center.
"She said that was the first time she saw that," Dixon said at postgame news conference. "She calls me mad dad at games."
There were plenty of reasons for Dixon to show his pearly whites.
• The victory came against the team that knocked Pitt out of the NCAA tournament last season and denied the Panthers of their first Final Four appearance since 1941.
• The win raised Pitt's record to 7-0 all time against Top 5-ranked teams at Petersen Events Center.
• But most important, the victory kept Pitt (21-6, 10-4) in contention for the Big East Conference regular-season championship.
The Panthers remained in a tie for third place with West Virginia and pulled to within one game of second-place Villanova and two games behind first-place Syracuse.
Pitt's final four games are against teams with losing Big East records, and the Panthers own the tiebreakers against all three teams that are also in the chase.
"That's something we talked about from the beginning of the year," Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon said of winning the Big East championship. "Now it looks more reasonable."
The game took place before 12,920, the largest on-campus crowd to witness a Pitt home game. What they saw was another unforgettable game in a season of memorable home games.
This one did not go to overtime such as others against West Virginia and Louisville, but it had all the elements of a typical knock 'em down, drag 'em out Big East contest.
Every shot was contested, every possession important.
Villanova forged comebacks, cutting the lead to two twice in the second half, the final time with 4:59 remaining. But whenever the Wildcats threatened to overtake the Panthers, someone from Pitt responded with a big play.
"That was a great Big East game," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It was fun to be a part of. It wasn't fun to lose, but it was just a great Big East game. It was typical Pitt-Villanova."
The victory was Pitt's third against a Top 5 opponent this season. The Panthers are the only team in Division I to achieve that this season. In addition to the victory against No. 3 Villanova Sunday, the Panthers beat Syracuse when it was No. 5 and West Virginia when it was No. 5.
It was the second time in 10 days that the Panthers did it at Petersen Events Center. They beat West Virginia in triple overtime Feb. 12.
"This is a great place to play," Wright said. "It's really cool. I enjoy coming here. But the toughest thing is their team. They control tempo here and get to the foul line. A team that controls tempo and gets to the foul line ... if they're making their free throws you're dead.
"They shortened the game. We tried to press. But that's the strength of their team. They're all good with the ball. They all pass well, they all handle it well. You're not going to speed them up. We tried. They never once tried to beat our press. They got the ball over half court and held the ball out, ran their cuts. If you're doing that and you rebound their misses, you're good. But they did it and got offensive rebounds, pulled it out and did it again."
Pitt won the game with defense, rebounding and by getting to the line more than twice as much as the Wildcats.
The Panthers held Villanova, the second highest-scoring team in NCAA Division I, to 20 points below its season average. They did that by playing tenacious defense against leading scorer Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds scored 20 points, but 15 of those came in the final 11 minutes as the Wildcats were frantically trying to catch up.
The Panthers milked the shot clock on the majority of their possessions and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds. Those offensive rebounds led to 16 second-chance points.
Pitt center Gary McGhee was responsible for getting eight of those offensive rebounds. He finished with 7 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.
"Their big guys do a good job offensive rebounding," said Reynolds. "When you play good defense and give up offensive rebounds, it's like breaking your back. They did a great job with that."
Pitt's ability to rebound -- it won the overall battle on the boards, 40-34 -- helped to offset a poor shooting performance. The Panthers shot 35 percent (20 for 57) from the field. Those offensive rebounds helped the Panthers get to the line.
Pitt was 26 for 34 from the free-throw line while Villanova was 11 for 16.
Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 21 points. Gilbert Brown added 16 and Jermaine Dixon 10.
NOTES -- Pitt's bench outscored Villanova's bench, 24-10. ... The Panthers scored 20 points off 13 Villanova turnovers. ... McGhee rebounded in double figures for the third time in the past five games.
First Published February 22, 2010 12:00 am