Woodall storms to career outing as Panthers win
Pitt's Tray Woodall, bottom, and St. John's Phil Greene fight for a loose ball Sunday.
Tray Woodall grimaces after accidentally getting kicked in the head in the first half against St. John's Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Woodall was the game's high scorer with 25 points in Pitt's 63-47 victory.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, right, reacts to a call by official Tony Greene in the second half.
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NEW YORK -- Tray Woodall was born in Brooklyn and always relishes trips home to play at Madison Square Garden, which he calls the Mecca of Basketball. A game against St. John's Sunday, however, was more special than usual for Pitt's fifth-year senior.
Woodall was honoring his grandmother, Elizabeth Ratliff, who has been hospitalized for the past 10 days with stroke-like symptoms. A 5-foot-11 guard, Woodall put his worries to the side for two hours and played one of the best games of his career in Pitt's 63-47 Big East Conference beat-down of the Red Storm, scoring a season-high 25 points before 9,129 fans, including many family members who welcomed a distraction from their family ordeal.
"My grandma is very sick," Woodall said after the game. "I played for my grandmother."
Woodall was 8 for 14 from the field, 4 for 7 from 3-point range, and had 2 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers in 31 minutes. He scored 15 of his points after halftime when the Panthers had to battle back after St. John's took one-point leads twice in the early stages of the second half.
"He was terrific in every way," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Every shot he took was a good shot. I can't say enough about how well he played. I don't think he took a bad shot or made a bad pass. That says a lot, playing 31 minutes."
Woodall was tremendous throughout the game, but he was splendid when it mattered most. St. John's took its first lead a minute into the second half and appeared ready to seize control of the contest. But Woodall stopped that momentum cold when he scored six consecutive points, three via a 3-point basket and another by a three-point play that gave the Panthers a 40-35 lead.
"That's just Tray to me," junior forward Lamar Patterson said. "He's been doing it a while. He always wants to take the big shot. He had the hot hand. He was firing them. He put the team on his back and led us to victory."
Woodall has been a consistent scorer this season but not been a prolific one. He entered the game as Pitt's leading scorer with 10.9 points per game but had not scored more than 14 points in any of the previous 18 games.
For most of the season, Woodall has deferred to teammates and made sure they were getting opportunities to score in an offense that has been well-balanced. But this game was different for a couple of reasons.
Woodall wanted to play well for his family, and he needed to play well for his teammates, many of whom struggled for long stretches of the game. Patterson was the only other Pitt player in double figures with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. The other eight Panthers who played were 10 for 30 from the field.
"I was comfortable," Woodall said. "I'm a senior. I should be comfortable out here. I saw the momentum shifting a little bit, so I wanted to put it on myself to shift momentum back and be the fearless guard that I am, and take shots."
Woodall's big effort also shifted the momentum in Pitt's season. The Panthers had lost consecutive games to Marquette and Notre Dame and needed a victory to keep pace in the competitive Big East.
The victory moved the 20th-ranked Panthers (21-7, 9-6) into a tie with Villanova for seventh place in the standings with three regular-season games remaining.
After allowing Marquette to shoot 56.5 percent and score 79 points and Notre Dame to shoot 60 percent in the second half of a 51-42 setback a week ago, the Panthers got back to basics and made life miserable for the Red Storm.
St. John's shot 32 percent and was held to a season low in points. D'Angelo Harrison, the third-leading scorer in the Big East entering the game, was 1 for 12 from the field and scored six points.
"I was real happy with how we defended," Dixon said. "That's what we do. We did a good job of it against a team that's hard to guard because they space the floor. We switched our matchups a little bit, which was effective for us. We did a great job defending."
It was the 11th time this season Pitt held an opponent to fewer than 50 points and the fourth time in Big East play.
"Pittsburgh came into the Garden and they grinded out a victory, which so often in the Big East is the only way to be successful," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "Pittsburgh was patient against our zone. They found some seams to get the ball in the interior and also made some great shots when the clock was running down."
NOTES -- Pitt was outrebounded for the third consecutive game. St. John's won the rebounding margin, 39-38. ... Talib Zanna was 1 for 5 from the field and scored four points, continuing his long scoring slump. Zanna is 17 for 59 from the field in the past 10 games and has not scored more than 11 points in any of those games. ... Pitt had 17 points off 12 St. John's turnovers. ... Pitt improved to 30-15 at Madison Square Garden since 2000.
First Published February 25, 2013 12:00 am