Pitt got outrebounded, outhustled, and even outmuscled, Tennessee came away with an impressive 83-76 win over the Panthers.
Scotty Hopson had one of the best individual performances against a Jamie Dixon-coached team, with a game-high 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Hopson was also a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range.
"I thought we really built too big a hole for us," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "We never really got to play our game."
Instead, Tennessee beat Pitt at its own game, outrebounding the Panthers 34-32, and making a bigger difference in the paint, outscoring the Panthers 34-22. The Volunteers did it by playing Pitt's brand of physical basketball.
"They made the first punch of the night, and we didn't respond well," guard Brad Wanamaker said. "They kept attacking us. They got rebounds from their missed shots. That's something we didn't do."
Wanamaker scored the opening points of the game on an easy layup, and was Pitt's biggest offensive threat for the entire game with 21. Gilbert Brown chipped in 15 points, and Ashton Gibbs scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half, thanks to a pair of clutch three-pointers.
Going back to that first basket by Wanamaker, though, it was Tobias Harris who answered with a three-pointer, putting Tennesseee up 3-2, and the Panthers never saw the lead again.
Pitt trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half thanks to Hopson, who scored 16 of Tennessee's 35 points in the first half. He was perfect on all three-point attempts in the first half. It wasn't so much the way he was hitting them--being defended by Brown to start off, and Brad Wanamaker--he came up with big plays to answer a smaller scale of big plays from Pitt. In other words, any time Pitt thought they were making their run, Hopson was their to take the wind out of their sail.
A three-pointer by Cameron Tatum put Tennessee up 59-39, its largest lead, with 11 minutes to play in the game. Dixon called a timeout to regroup. Just as it looked like Tennessee was going to run away with the game, Pitt showed signs of life in the second half, as Dixon alluded to. The first sign came via a mini 7-4 run Pitt had five minutes in. Brown cut the Tennessee lead back down to 10, 44-34, with his first three-pointer of the game. Even though Hopson answered with a three-pointer, Wanamaker was fouled on the next possession, where he converted both of his free throw opportunities. Wanamaker came up with a steal his next time on defense, then pushed transition. He set up Brown for the dunk, cutting the Tennessee lead to 47-38; the first time Tennessee's lead had been in single digits since the 9:20 mark of the first half (25-17).
Bruce Pearl called for a time out, to regroup his bunch.
"I think the biggest difference between the last ten minutes and the rest of the game is that we began to execute and match their level of intensity," Brown said. "They came out and threw the first punch. We were playing catch-up from that point on. I think in the last ten minutes of the game, we put it together more. I wish we would have had that more."
Tennessee responded with an easy feed to a cutting Hopson inside, who finished it off with an easy layup. Anytime Pitt got close, or came up with a big play, Hopson was there to make a bigger one. He came through in the clutch all day, and Pitt could do nothing to slow him down.
Pitt came back again with the press after Wanamaker added another pair of free throws. Tennessee's lead was still in double-digits at 61-47. They came out with a press, forcing an out-of-bounds pass. It was the first of three turnovers Pitt would force over the final 10 minutes, thanks to the press. Kenny Hall had just fouled out, and off the errant Tennessee pass, Pitt went to the line again--this time Travon Woodall. He connected on 1-of-2 free throws, cutting the lead to 61-48.
Hall was the first Tennessee. Williams fouled out with 56.9 seconds left.
Again, it was Hopson who went to the line, converted two free throws. Pitt pushed the ball and turned it over on the next series. Hopson ended up with the ball, driving from the wing, where he finished with a dunk. He was not defended by anyone on his way to the rim.
"I think a couple of times, there was some transition buckets that he came up with," Dixon said of Hopson's performance. "That got him going. He made some tough shots. They got us in a hole that we did not recover from."
Wanamaker came up with a dunk, and was fouled by Pearl on the play. With the free throw, Pitt trailed 66-53 with 4:26 left.
Pitt pressed, forcing an over pass, getting the ball back. Taylor fouled underneath by Fields, who picked up his fifth, and fouled out. Dante Taylor converted 1-of-2 free throws. His second miss was tipped out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Panthers. Asthon Gibbs came up with a three-pointer--his second of the game, to bring Pitt back to within 66-57 with 3:30 left in the game.
Hopson added a jumper from the wing, with Wanamaker's hand in his face, which put the Volunteers up 69-57 with 2:25 left in the game. Wanamaker and Gibbs each added another three-pointer, and eventually got the Pitt deficit down to seven points, which is where the final score rested. The theme of the game, though, was that Pitt's effort over the last ten minutes was too much to over come.