Eastern Washington entered Friday’s game as one of the nation’s top-scoring teams, so Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon set a goal for his team: hold the Eagles to 35 percent shooting, or lower.
The Panthers didn’t quite hit that mark, but stifled Eastern Washington’s transition offense and limited the Eagles to a season-low shooting night in an 84-51 victory.
“They just never quite got in that rhythm,” Dixon said. “After we scored, it’s obviously hard to score after a basket but they’ve shown the ability to do it and the commitment to it, but they didn’t seem to get that going against us.”
Michael Young scored 21 points to lead Pitt (7-1) in the wire-to-wire victory. Jamel Artis added 14 points and Chris Jones chipped in 11 off the bench.
Eastern Washington (5-5) mustered only five fast-break points and shot 37.3 percent from the field. Eagles head coach Jim Hayford called Pitt’s transition defense superb.
“Their transition defense was such that we were never able to play offense with them in a state of reaction and that’s why we had an extremely low-scoring game for us,” Hayford said.
Austin McBroom made three 3-pointers and scored 14 points to lead Eastern Washington. Felix Von Hofe and Venky Jois scored 10 points apiece as the Eagles shot a season-low 37.3 percent from the field.
Pitt looked well-rested after four idle days following a stretch of four games in eight days.
The Panthers made their first six field goal attempts to grab an early double-digit lead and shot 59 percent in the first half. Pitt led 42-23 at halftime.
Pitt held the Eagles scoreless for four minutes and used an 11-0 run to extend its lead to 24 points with eight minutes left and led by as many as 37.
“We basically played good defense,” Artis said. “We found the open man, started running more ball-screens and I think that helped a lot.”
Eastern Washington struggled defensively again after the Eagles allowed Davidson to shoot 59.6 percent from the field in a 96-86 loss Wednesday. The Eagles allowed their opponent to make at least half of its shots for the sixth time in 10 games this season.
Pitt scored 27 points off 15 Eastern Washington turnovers.
Eastern Washington: Bogdan Bliznyuk scored a season-low seven points. Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington’s second-leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, shot 2 of 8 from the field, turned the ball over six times and failed to reach double-digit scoring for the first time this season.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers made 50 percent of their shots for the third consecutive game. After No. 11 Purdue held Pitt to 35 percent shooting Dec. 2, the Panthers have shot 53.3 percent in the three games since.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“We were a welterweight fighting a heavyweight tonight,” Hayford said of falling behind early. “We took one punch and weren’t knocked out but laid on the ground and hoped we could get our purse and leave. That’s why it was an ugly game.”
WORK IN PROGRESS
Dixon looks for his team’s defense to improve with each game that pass. A loss to No. 11 Purdue Dec. 1 exposed the Panthers weaknesses on defense, according to Sheldon Jeter who sees his team taking strides in the right direction.
Since the loss, opponents have shot 37.5 percent in three games against Pitt.
“Our defense is getting better and will continue to get better,” Jeter said. “Hopefully by conference play we’ll be one of the best defensive teams.”