Pitt rebounded from the Tennessee loss with a 97-64 win over Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday night. The Panthers improve to 11-1 on the season, and now only have a game with American University on Wednesday as the only thing standing between them and their Big East opener with UConn on December 27.
Gilbert Brown stole the show. Brown finished the game with a career-high 28 points; the most scored by a Pitt player this year. It's also the most for a Pitt player since Sam Young scored 32 points against Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Gary McGhee added his sixth career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall each hit double-figures with 15 points and 11 points respectively. Woodall led the team with nine assists, followed by Gibbs who tied a career-high with seven.
Even more impressive than that point total was the 33 assists by Pitt as a team, a new Petersen Events Center record. The school-record for assists in a game is 34. After the game, head coach Jamie Dixon touched on his team's ability to share the ball, despite having a big lead for much of the night.
"Great job in that area," Dixon said. "I think our motion--our movement--is getting better. It has been for a couple weeks now. It's really heading in the right direction, where we're going offensively. We've got room to improve, but I like the direction it's going."
Maryland Eastern Shore hung around in the first half, never letting the Panthers get too far ahead. Hillary Haley hit a pair of three-pointers in the first half for the Hawks, scoring 11 of his team‘s 32 first-half points. The Panthers could not build a bigger lead early on in the half because of turnovers, and missed opportunities. Even though the Hawks had no points to show off of Pitt's turnovers, it still prevented Pitt from building a lead bigger than five.
The Hawks closed the Pitt lead to 26-22 with 6:48 left in the first half thanks to a jumper from Haley. Pitt called a 30-second timeout after Haley's jumper.
Maryland Eastern Shore head coach Frankie Allen was pleased with his team's effort up to that point, but knew sooner or later Pitt was going to catch on. He felt the 30-second timeout was the turning point of the game.
"That's the part I felt good about," Allen said, about keeping it close early. "They have too much depth, too much talent. You knew pretty soon they were going to pick it up. To play the way we did, 26-22, I wouldn't say we had them on the ropes. I would just say they took a timeout. I think coach (Dixon) just looked them in the eye and said, ‘Lets go to work, fellas.'"
It was at that point where Brown came alive. He scored 19 of Pitt‘s 47 first-half points, including 10 of Pitt‘s next 14 points after that timeout. In just a two and a half minute stretch--which included two of his three first-half three-pointers--Pitt had a 40-23 cushion with 4:07 left in the first half.
"It was good to see him come out and be aggressive," McGhee said of his fellow senior's performance. "We saw him be aggressive at the beginning of the game; getting in the flow of the game. We saw that tonight. He knocked down a lot of shots. He looked really good tonight."
Aside from his 10-point scoring spree which gave Pitt some breathing room in the first half, Brown converted 11-of-13 shots (84.6%) from the field, including 4-of-5 (80%) three-pointers. He converted both of his free throw attempts. All 11 of Brown's field goals were assisted baskets. Interestingly, Brown's only misses were his first shot of the game and his final shot. He hit 11 in a row from the 11:51 mark of the first half, to the 4:37 mark of the second half--a span of nearly 27 minutes with 11 consecutive field goals.
"We got him the ball in places where he could knock down some jump shots," McGhee added. "We got him open a little bit, and he hit the shots."
After building up the halftime lead to 15 points, the Panthers went on to shoot 60 percent for the second half, on 21-of-35 shooting, which kept expanding Pitt's lead. A three-pointer by Ashton Gibbs put Pitt up by 21, 58-37 with 16:35 left in the game. It was Pitt's first 20-point lead of the game, as the Hawks just couldn't catch up.
Brown didn't have a bad game against Tennessee either, shooting 5-of-10 from the field, 2-of-3 from three-point range, good enough for 15 points. Is it realistic to expect a consistent string of 28 or 30-point nights from him?
"Just be consistent with what I've been doing lately," Brown said. "Work out, then just focus on going out and executing the game plan. I think just playing within my abilities and going out there, doing everything I do in practice and extra work that I put in (outside of) practice; go out there and do that, I'll be fine. I think I could have games like this (consistently)."