Woodall helps Panthers turn away Explorers
Nasir Robinson had a team-high 17 points for Pitt Tuesday night in its 73-69 victory against La Salle.
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Pitt junior Tray Woodall has done just about everything that has been asked of him so far this season. He entered the game against La Salle Tuesday night as the team's leader in assists and was second in scoring and rebounding.
The Panthers' do-it-all point guard filled up the stat sheet once again with his third double-double this season against the Explorers, but he preserved a hard-fought victory with a most unlikely play.
Woodall sprinted the length of the court and blocked a layup attempt by Sam Mills with eight seconds remaining, and No. 17 Pitt avoided a second loss in a row with a 73-69 win at Petersen Events Center.
"I just didn't want to give him a layup," Woodall said. "We needed a stop. I went up there and went after it. Coach [Jamie] Dixon always preaches no layups."
- Game: No. 17 Pitt (3-1) at Penn (3-1), Palestra, Philadelphia, in Philly HoopGroup Classic.
- When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Woodall was terrific with 12 points, 10 assists and 3 rebounds, but the block of Mills was his career-high third of the game. The Panthers had nine blocks overall as part of a better overall defensive effort after allowing Long Beach State 86 points in their first loss last week.
La Salle, which had averaged 80 points in its first three games, shot 43 percent and had a hard time scoring against Pitt's half-court defense. The reason the Explorers were in the game until the final minute was Pitt's poor offensive execution and turnovers.
La Salle's final opportunity came after Ashton Gibbs turned the ball over without putting up a shot with 10 seconds remaining. It was the 21st turnover for the Panthers and their fifth in the final five minutes after going ahead, 60-53.
"We shouldn't have been in that position," Dixon said. "We didn't take care of the ball against the press. We didn't get a good shot at the end. The turnovers kept holding us back."
Pitt (3-1) held 10-point leads in each half, but La Salle fought back each time to remain in contention. A 15-4 run midway through the second half gave the Explorers their first lead, 53-52, with 7:15 left.
Pitt answered with a 9-0 run to take the lead for good, but the game was tense right to the end. The Explorers (2-2) trailed by nine with less than two minutes remaining, but clawed back into the game with some timely shots following those Pitt turnovers.
Earl Pettis scored eight of his game-high 22 points in the final 1:53. His 3-pointer with 44 seconds left cut Pitt's lead to 72-69. Pitt bled the shot clock on its ensuing possession, but Gibbs turned the ball over before he could get a shot away.
Mills, a sophomore, went in for a layup instead of pulling up for a 3-pointer. La Salle coach John Giannini blamed himself for not going over late-game situations with his team. He said he would have rather seen Mills pull up for the potential tying basket rather than the two-pointer with eight seconds to go.
"We wanted this badly," Giannini said. "We were in position and had a chance. This is really disappointing for us because we knew what it would have meant to win against a team like this. You hate to blow special opportunities. They don't come around that often."
For Pitt, losing consecutive games to non-conference opponents at home does not happen often, either. In fact, the Panthers avoided doing that for the first time in 15 years with their late rally.
The victory came even though Gibbs played one of the worst games of his career.
Pitt's senior guard and the Big East preseason player of the year came in averaging a team-leading 21.7 points per game, but the Explorers forced him into a 3-for-15 shooting night. Gibbs missed his first seven attempts from the field and did not make a field goal until 1:37 remained before halftime.
Instead, Woodall and Nasir Robinson had to lead the way. Woodall was 5 for 8 from the field and continued his torrid 3-point shooting, making two of three such attempts. He is 14 for 23 from 3-point range this season.
Robinson was 8 for 10 from the field and had six rebounds. He scored six points in the first three minutes of the second half to give the Panthers some separation after La Salle whittled the gap to 28-26 before halftime.
It was Robinson who gave Pitt the lead for good after La Salle momentarily took a 53-52 edge. It was the start of a decisive, 9-0 run.
Pitt also received some solid performances from its reserves, who contributed next to nothing against Long Beach State six days ago. J.J. Moore had nine points and six rebounds, and Khem Birch had 4 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Birch played exclusively at center after playing the first three games at power forward.
Talib Zanna, who had been the backup center, moved to backup power forward. Dixon said that is the way the frontcourt rotation will remain.
First Published November 23, 2011 12:00 am