Bench gives Panthers a lift in 58-43 win at Villanova
Pitt's Trey Zeigler tries to keep the ball away from Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono during the second half on Wednesday in Villanova.
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VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Pitt had just blown a five-point lead and allowed Villanova to tie the score after committing a turnover with just over five minutes remaining. The way the season had unfolded to that point it seemed perfectly plausible the Panthers were headed toward another disappointing loss.
Instead of folding, the Panthers showed some resolve. They scored the final 15 points and escaped their final scheduled game at The Pavilion with a 58-43 Big East Conference victory Wednesday night against the Wildcats.
"We definitely needed that," junior guard Trey Zeigler said. "It was a big win."
Zeigler and fellow reserve Durand Johnson each scored 13 points off the bench to pace the Panthers (14-4, 2-3), who won the old-fashioned Pitt way -- with defense and rebounding.
Pitt limited Villanova to 31 percent shooting and outrebounded the Wildcats, the top rebounding team in the conference entering the game, 39-27.
"That was a great defensive effort," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I thought they were outstanding. We couldn't break through. We just couldn't score the way they were defending us. And they dominated us on the glass."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been harping on rebounding all season, but his words had fallen on deaf ears. Wednesday night, his players finally got the message.
"We knew how good of a rebounding team they were," Dixon said. "To get the numbers we did on the glass was gratifying for us. It was a team effort. Hopefully, we understand the value of rebounding and we continue to be the team and program we've been rebounding-wise."
The Panthers needed the tough defensive effort because the offense continued to struggle. Pitt shot 37 percent from the field and only made 3 of 15 shots from 3-point range. None of the starters scored in double figures, and they shot a combined 7 for 28 from the field.
Fortunately for Dixon, Zeigler and Johnson rescued the Panthers. Johnson made all three of Pitt's 3-point shots. Two came in the first half when the Panthers were particularly inept on offense and wound up trailing, 23-22, at intermission.
"In the first half, we were struggling offensively," Johnson said. "Me and Trey decided when the opportunity presents itself, don't let it pass. It came, and we were able to deliver and help our team get a win."
Zeigler did most of his damage in the second half. He scored nine of his 13 points after halftime and made some huge plays in the final five minutes. After Villanova's James Bell dunked to make it 43-43 after a Tray Woodall turnover with 5:13 left, Zeigler maintained his poise after being trapped on the wing and found a wide-open Steven Adams for a dunk.
That opened the floodgates for the Panthers, who outscored the Wildcats, 15-0, over the final 4:53.
"It was a huge play," Zeigler said. "We talked about how they liked to trap on the first pass. They threw it at us. I tried to stay strong and keep my pivot and wait for someone to get open. They left Steve wide open. It worked out."
Zeigler, who entered the game averaging just 4.6 points per game, added the next two baskets for a 49-43 lead, then made another big play when he tipped an offensive rebound to Lamar Patterson, who drove to the basket to give the Panthers an eight-point lead with 1:14 to go.
"It's been an up-and-down season for me," Zeigler said. "To be able to help the team win was great."
Zeigler played 25 minutes off the bench. Afterward, Dixon said he expects his role to continue to grow. Dixon played freshman point guard James Robinson 25 minutes and reserve Cameron Wright, who had been the top guard off the bench, just one minute.
"He's a new guy," Dixon said of Zeigler. "It's taken some time. Hopefully, this is his time."
Zeigler, a transfer from Central Michigan, and Johnson, a redshirt freshman, scored almost half the team's points. Zeigler was 6 for 10 from the field and Johnson 4 for 8.
"We're both guys who can make plays," Zeigler said. "We can both score. We're instant offense off the bench. It's just about giving the team a boost -- whatever coach needs offensively or defensively."
NOTES -- Pitt's bench outscored Villanova's, 31-8. ... Villanova entered the game as the top offensive rebounding team in the Big East, but the Wildcats had just one offensive board. ... After going 13 for 26 from the free-throw line Saturday in the overtime loss to Marquette, Pitt improved to 19 for 26 against Villanova.
? Game: Pitt (14-4, 2-3 Big East) vs. Connecticut (12-4, 2-2), Petersen Events Center.
? When: Noon, Saturday.
? TV: ESPN2.
First Published January 17, 2013 12:00 am