Pitt won its first game of 2012, and its first win since a 71-47 win over St. Francis (PA) on December 20, as the Panthers defeated Providence 86-74. Pitt improves to 12-9 overall, 1-7 in the Big East. Providence falls to 12-9, 1-7 in the Big East.
Ashton Gibbs led three Pitt players in double-figures with 22. Travon Woodall finished with 17 and Nasir Robinson added 14. Vincent Council had a game-high 26 points for the Friars, followed by Bryce Cotton with 19 and LaDontae Henton with 12. Lamar Patterson had a game-high and career-high 11 rebounds for the Panthers as well.
The Panthers got back on track thanks to a first half that included just 4 turnovers, and impressive 12 points off 5 Providence turnovers, 14 second-chance points and 11 fast break points. Ashton Gibbs scored 16 of 22 in the first half. This, all en route to a 46-31 lead at the half. Those were all welcome changes compared to what's been going wrong in its eight-game losing streak.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Wednesday's win, the three-point shooting. In its first 10 games this season, Pitt shot at least 40 percent from three-point range in six games. In the previous 10 games leading into tonight's game, Pitt had not reached 40 percent from three-point range. Tonight, they did, converting 11-of-20 three-pointers, good enough for 55 percent.
Woodall, after two shaky performances in his last two outings—including his much awaited return to the lineup Saturday after nearly a month out a second time around—was the talk of the postgame. Woodall was 0-for-5 from the field in each of his last two games. Monday, Jamie Dixon said it would take some time for Woodall to become more comfortable in the lineup. Four days after that 0-for-5 performance against Louisville, Woodall showed signs that he's back. Now, can he put a string of games like this together?
"Travon, it's amazing he's back and playing to this level so quick," head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. "He was tremendous. It spread. We have to get to work tomorrow and have a good day tomorrow, to build off of. This is a good starting point.
"You saw in conditioning, him just staying in and wanting to play. He had eight assists, one turnover yesterday (in practice). That's what I've talked to him about. We had our starting point today. That's what he did. I'm excited to see him play tomorrow."
Providence coach Ed Cooley agreed. Though he was watching film of Woodall go 0-for-5 on Saturday, he knows Pitt is a much stronger team with Woodall playing at his best.
"They're a totally different team," Cooley said. "Everybody's in their roles, everybody's in their comfort zone. He's a Big East player, he plays on a very good team."
Pitt converted 7-of-12 three-pointers in the first half, and went 4-of-5 to start the second half. Woodall himself was a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc for the entire games. A three-pointer from Woodall gave the Panthers a 54-39 lead just four minutes into the second half, forcing Cooley to call timeout.
The Panthers didn't stop there from three-point range. Woodall added a second of the half, followed by another from Gibbs as they went up 66-50.
"There's definitely more space (with Woodall)," Gibbs cited in Pitt's success from three-point range. "He's a scoring option too. The defense has to respect him.
"We just did a good job moving the ball, moving without the ball as well. This is something we're capable of doing."
Woodall had to go to the bench in the second half, after picking up his third foul. Nasir Robinson also picked up a third foul and had to head to the bench. Shortly after returning, around the 10:00 mark of the second half, Providence got it back to within a single-digit deficit, as Bryce Cotton hit a three-pointer. The Friars trailed 66-57 as Woodall re-entered the game. After a putback by Talib Zanna, Woodall answered on the next Pitt series with a fast break bucket. Pitt was up 70-57.
There was still, however, some fight left in Providence. Cotton and Gerard Coleman had fast break layups. After a Pitt turnover, Cotton added another layup. Pitt led by as many as 17 in the second half. Their lead dwindled to 70-63 with 8:02 remaining.
Pitt got a couple of quick buckets as Gibbs answered Cotton's layup with a short jumper. After a Providence miss, Gibbs pushed, then dished inside to Patterson for a layup. Pitt went up 74-63.
After another timeout called by Cooley, Pitt went back up by double-digits on a fastbreak layup by Patterson. Dante Taylor added some insurance on a feed from Woodall. Woodall added a short-range jumper, and Pitt led 80-65 with just under three minutes to go. That seemed to wrap things up for the Panthers at that point.
As Pitt heads into this next game with Georgetown, even with a subpar 12-9 record, the team has two big burdens off its shoulders—the eight-game losing streak is over, and Woodall appears back at full strength, even if it was for one game.
"I got a great group of guys that are able to find me in open areas," Woodall added. "My teammates did a great job of getting open, getting assists. Saturday, I felt comfortable. Tonight, I just went out there and played basketball."
Does it make preparations for Saturday and beyond easier with the losing streak out of the way, and Woodall back to par? Dixon downplayed the notion, but Gibbs said it will make preparations a little bit easier—knowing the only thing needed to be focused on is the opponent, and not thinking about a losing streak and what needs to happen to end the streak.
"You just have to keep battling, going forward," Dixon said. "Hopefully, what matters tomorrow is practice."
"It feels good, at the same time we have Georgetown on Saturday," Gibbs said. "We have to carry everything over into the game on Saturday."