Pitt improved to 12-1, closing out its non-conference portion of the 2010-11 schedule with a 61-46 win over American University on Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center. In the process, head coach Jamie Dixon picked up career win 200. Afterwards, the Pitt seniors presented Dixon with the game ball and spoke about what Dixon means to the program.
"That was probably the thing that means most to me," Dixon said, referring to the seniors speaking after the game. "They talked about the hard work and dedication. I corrected them, and said it was the good players. That's the most important thing."
Brad Wanamaker led the way with 19 points, followed by Gilbert Brown with 15 and Ashton Gibbs with 10. Pitt dominated on the boards after a slow start, outrebounding the Eagles 41-24. The Panthers were led by Dante Taylor, who finished with seven rebounds. American's Vlad Moldoveanu had a game-high 23 points, including three three-pointers. Stephen Lumpkins added 10 for the Eagles, while Nick Hendra had a game-high eight rebounds in the loss.
"Obviously Pitt came in as the best-rebounding team in the country, and they didn't do anything to disappoint tonight," American head coach Jeff Jones said after the game. "We just couldn't hang with them on the boards, and obviously, that was the difference."
Pitt got off slow out of the gates during the first 10 minutes of the game. They got early baskets; easy layups from Wanamaker and Talib Zanna, but American converted three-pointers on its first two baskets. The biggest problem for the Panthers early on, was American owning the glass; a 6-4 rebounding edge in the game's first eight minutes. The score was tied at 12-12 to that point.
"We wanted to be opportunistic," Jones said, of keeping it close early. "We didn't want to face a set defense every time. We knew we didn't want to go up with them and play a high-scoring game. We felt with Vlad (Moldoveanu), we could force them into some situations where their big guys aren't really comfortable."
Eventually, Pitt's depth took over. The Panthers gained a bit of an edge in rebounding over the final 12 minutes of the first half--an 11-7 edge on the glass--but also converted some key buckets along the way. Brown--looking eager to follow up on his 28-point performance from Saturday night, converted the and-one on a drive, putting Pitt up 16-12. On the next possession, Gibbs hit Wanamaker in stride with a perfect bounce pass, then continued full speed toward the hoop for an easy layup. Pitt went up 18-14. Brown entered double-digits with 23 seconds left in the half, catching a feed off a dribble-penetrate from Wanamaker, putting the Panthers up 34-18 at the half.
American was hanging with the Panthers early in the first half, but once Pitt started making plays, there wasn't really a way for them to keep up.
Coming out of halftime, American wouldn‘t go away yet. The Eagles put together a 7-0 run to start the half, cutting the Pitt lead to 34-25. The Panthers didn't even get their first field goal until a reverse layup from Dante Taylor. That first field goal didn't come until four minutes into the half. Taylor scored the first three field goals of the half for the Panthers, but they were still having trouble breaking away. Modoveanu added a three-pointer, cutting the Pitt lead to 40-32, just five minutes into the half. Jamie Dixon called a timeout.
"We did good; I thought we really played good the last minutes of the first half," Dixon said. "We had a sixteen-point lead, at thirty-four to eighteen, which is a huge difference in a low-scoring game like that. Then, a couple turnovers, bad possessions, fumbled balls--disappointed in that. We had five turnovers (for the game), so you're going to have a couple.
"I'm a little disappointed with our shot selection a couple times down (early in the second half). That's really what got them going, their patience. Dante got a couple finishes, bounce passes and some offensive rebounds. Dante played very well."
Troy Hill later added another three-pointer for the Eagles, as they trailed 42-35. The seven-point deficit was the closest American had been since Pitt led 20-14 with 6:50 left in the first half.
Pitt answered, just as they did in the first half, with a few big plays on offense and defense that got their lead back to double-digits. Wanamaker and Brown each added long-range jumpers, putting Pitt back up by 10, 46-36, with 12:40 left in the game. Wanamaker then came up with a steal, and was fouled going to the hoop. He only converted one of his two free throw attempts, but Pitt was up 47-35.
Later, a three-pointer from Ashton Gibbs at the top of the key put Pitt up by 17--its biggest lead of the game--at 56-39, with just 5:43. American kept it close, but with Wanamaker and Brown making plays all night, Gibbs' three-pointer was the final dagger.
"This was almost reminiscent of how a Big East game is played; it was slow, grind-out offensive possessions, wind it down to the last second of the shot clock," Brown said. "I think this helped us and gave us a little bit of experience for what we're about to face."