Pitt had a knack for coming from behind and winning close games last season. It was one of the main reasons the Panthers finished in a tie for second place in the Big East. They had big come-from-behind wins against West Virginia, Louisville and Providence, all in the final minute or overtime.
They said it couldn't last. Maybe it wasn't all luck last season. Maybe the Panthers win close games because they have character players who rise up in clutch situations.
The Panthers did it again Tuesday night at Providence. Trailing by four with 1:29 remaining, they came back for an 83-79 win. Travon Woodall made the big shot, a 3-pointer with 36 seconds remaining to give his team the lead for good.
Woodall, a reserve, was instrumental in some of Pitt's big comebacks last season. He helped the Panthers beat West Virginia in triple overtime after the Panthers trailed by seven with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
If the Panthers are going to compete for the Big East regular-season title, they'll likely have to win a few more close games. Given their history in this area, they seem to be as good a bet as any team in the conference.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Early in the season, it looked as if coach Jamie Dixon had a keeper in redshirt freshman forward Talib Zanna. Subbing for the injured Nasir Robinson, Zanna nearly averaged a double-double through the first four games, including a standout 14-point, 12-rebound performance against Maryland on Nov. 18. But since Robinson returned to the lineup, Zanna has fallen on hard times and might have hit rock bottom in Tuesday night's win at Providence.
Zanna played just five minutes. He did not score and was credited with only one rebound. Dixon pulled him off the floor early in the game after he missed a wide open layup. Dixon turned to 6-foot-5 Lamar Patterson to play the backup minutes behind Robinson, and Patterson responded. He was 2 for 2 from the field and had five points and three assists in 18 minutes. If Patterson, a versatile player who can play a number of positions, continues to play well, don't be surprised to see Zanna on the bench more and more.
--Pitt stormed back from a four-point deficit with 1:29 remaining to defeat Providence 83-79 Tuesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Sophomore point guard Travon Woodall and senior center Gary McGhee made all of the big plays for the Panthers in their late comeback. Woodall, after missing his first four shots of the game, made a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to give the Panthers the lead for good. McGhee, a 42 percent free throw shooter, made two free throws with 17 seconds left after grabbing a defensive rebound and being fouled.
--Pitt is not very good from the free throw line, but the Panthers had ice water running through their veins in the game's final minute. They were 19 for 25 from the line in the game against Providence and 6 for 6 in the final 17 seconds. They entered the game shooting 65.2 percent from the line for the season, which was 15th out of 16 teams in the Big East.
--Home-court advantage? Try Pitt's Petersen Events Center. Since it opened in 2002 the Panthers are 8-0 against teams ranked in the Top 5 of the AP Poll, No. 4 Connecticut being the latest victory. Pitt has beaten UConn four straight times.
--Pitt's tenacious defense held 12 of its first 14 opponents to fewer than 70 points.
--Sophomore PG Travon Woodall committed three turnovers against UConn after having committed only three in his previous five games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Pitt shows its depth by having 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes played per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He definitely brings a lot of energy. He has a big-time motor, and having him in early really helped us out. Having him in the starting lineup definitely helps us." -- G Ashton Gibbs on the return of Nasir Robinson, coming back from knee surgery, to the starting lineup for the UConn game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Marquette, Jan. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: Pitt gets Marquette at home, which changes a lot of things as the Petersen Events Center has been almost certain death for visitors. The Panthers hold a huge edge on the boards and on defense, but Marquette has three scorers in Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom who can fill it up. The trio combined for 60 of Marquette's 79 points against West Virginia, much of it coming driving to the basket.
FUTURES MARKET: Senior F Nasir Robinson started all 34 games last year but he underwent knee surgery this October and had to ease into the season, coming off the bench. But as conference play began, he found himself back in the starting lineup and delivered big time with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes. "I knew I was going to start the first practice we had last week," Robinson said. "Coach pulled me aside and told that I would be back starting. It boosts my confidence. I've done a lot to get back into the starting lineup, I've been working hard in rehab and practicing hard. But, it doesn't really matter when I get into the game, as long as I can play my game."
--Senior forward Gilbert Brown is starting to get a hot hand. Brown has scored 15 points or more in five of the last six games. His 3-point shooting has been a big key. He is 15-for-23 from behind the arc in the last six contests.
--Junior G Ashton Gibbs had a productive 31 minutes against UConn, with 21 points, seven assists and only one turnover. Gibbs had gone five games without recording a 20-point effort after scoring 20 or more in five of the season's first eight games. He leads the Big East in 3-pointers made.
--Senior C Gary McGhee scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting against UConn and added 11 rebounds for his seventh career double-double. He has four this season, reaching double figure rebounds every time he's scored double figure points.