Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t where head coach Jamie Dixon wanted it to be in his team’s first two games. Cornell’s high-scoring backcourt of Robert Hatter and Matt Morgan, averaging over 35 points per game combined, promised to offer another challenge.
Pitt stepped up to the task and held the tandem to only two combined made field goals, while limiting Cornell to just 30 percent shooting in a 93-49 victory Wednesday.
“We knew they had some guards that could score the basketball and our goal was to keep them contained,” Dixon said. “I’m shocked by what we were able to do.”
Hatter and Morgan shot 2 for 19 from the field and combined for only eight points. Dixon attributed the success to Pitt’s defense early, which did not afford easy looks to the guards or their teammates.
“I think we got into them early and didn’t let them get a rhythm,” Dixon said. “That’s what we’re trying to get across, no mistakes, no easy shots to get them going.”
Jamel Artis led four Panthers in double-figures with a game-high 21 points and said Pitt’s stellar defense was a byproduct of what the team learned from watching Cornell’s game tape.
“We hedged hard on ball screens and we made them attack,” Artis said. “We were in the gaps so we made them shoot difficult shots.”
Chris Jones came off the bench to score 15 points for Pitt (3-0). Michael Young had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Damon Wilson added 10 points.
Artis and Jones combined to score 30 points in the first half as the Panthers took a 46-19 lead. Pittsburgh continued to apply pressure in the second half and Cornell came no closer than 27 points in the second half.
“I think their coaching staff did a tremendous job scouting us,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said. “They knew that we pick-and-pop and do different things to allow our 3-point shooters to get open.”
JoJo Fallas led Cornell (3-3) with nine points on 3 of 4 3-point attempts.
The Panthers opened the game on a 16-2 run as the Big Red missed their first 13 shots. Fallas made a 3-pointer for Cornell’s first basket six minutes into the game. He made two more 3-pointers to key an 8-0 Cornell run that cut Pitt’s lead to 16-10.
Cornell only made seven baskets and shot 21 percent from the field in the first half.
Pitt led by as many as 48 points in the second half.
SHARING IS CARING
Pittsburgh has scored at least 84 points in each of its first three games posted 40-point wins in two of those games. Jamie Dixon wants his teams to win games with defense, but one facet of the offense stands out.
“The unselfishness,” Dixon said. “We’re skilled, we can pass and the shooting’s getting there. We’ve got good spacing, we’ve got good passing and we’ve got guys that can pass one through five.”
Wednesday provided another case as Pitt recorded 25 assists on 33 made baskets. Through three games, the Panthers have assisted on 65 percent of their made shots.
Matt Morgan did not score and was held below double-digits for the first time in his collegiate career. Morgan, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week, averaged 16.8 points per game over his first five games but shot 0 for 7 in 13 minutes Wednesday.
Even though Morgan turned 18-years old a day before Cornell’s first game of the season, Bill Courtney doesn’t attribute his play Wednesday to anything age-related.
“I don’t think the level of competition scares him,” Courtney said. “I think he just had a really, really bad game.”
Pittsburgh: Jamel Artis recorded his ninth career 20-plus game. He made 6 of 11 from the field and added five rebounds and four assists.
Cornell: The Big Red shot 18 of 61 Wednesday night to record a season-low 29.5 percent clip from the field. Cornell’s previous low came in a 87-62 loss to Canisius in which the team shot 35.4 percent.
Pittsburgh hosts Kent State on Saturday