Pounding At The Pete

In the waning minutes during Pitt's 77-64 thrashing by Rutgers Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center, the only questions to be answered concerned the worst home losses and worst Big East defeats under Jamie Dixon as the Panthers basketball coach.

As redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown canned two 3-pointers in the final minute with the result already determined, the Scarlet Knights could only match the most lopsided Pittsburgh defeat at the Pete, a 13-point loss to Louisville (66-53) Feb. 12, 2007.

However, since Rutgers (10-11, 2-6) entered the game unranked and in the Big East basement with just one win, it most assuredly was the worst Pitt defeat in the four-plus seasons under Dixon. The No. 13 Panthers (16-4, 4-3) were the second straight ranked team that the Scarlet Knights knocked off.

"I just think that this was a great followup to what we've been trying to do,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "Certainly, coming off beating Villanova at home, they were No. 18 in the country. ... But coming into this building, 91-8 going into today, to beat the No. 13 team in the country.

"To be able to defend and rebound the way we did and knock down shots. I'm so proud of these kids and happy for them. This proves that all their hard work and everything we talked about in this process. (But) we took another step, a giant step in that process, as we continue to build the program.''

Since the Petersen Events Center opened six years ago, Pitt has been dominant there, winning an amazing 91 percent of their games (91-9). But in the 100th contest at the Pete and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Panthers legend Jerome Lane's famous tomahawk dunk that tore down the rim and shattered the glass backboard, Pitt's performance was anything but classic.

The Panthers led by seven at halftime, 39-32, and stretched that to an apex of nine points, 47-38, with 13:37 remaining on a jumper by Brown for two of his team-high 16 points. But Pitt's shooting woes that started immediately in the second half worsened by the second, and Rutgers began to take control.

The Scarlet Knights went on a 20-2 run to lead 58-49 on a 3-pointer by guard Mike Coburn with 6:47 remaining, and Pitt was outscored 39-17 during that final 13:37. The Panthers made just one of their first nine second-half shots and were 10-for-34 overall after the intermission (29.4 percent). Pitt held a 22-9 rebounding edge in the first half, but was beaten badly on the boards by 16 in the second half (29-13), as Rutgers played primarily a zone defense.

"Our preparation was good all week and ... did some things well, but in the second half we got beat in every facet,'' Dixon said. "The shooting percentages stick out and getting out-rebounded by 16 is unheard is just unheard of, and I think that's the biggest thing we can point to (as a reason for the loss).

"(But) when you get out-rebounded by 16, we got exactly what we deserved. Our shot selection, I did not think it was as bad as the numbers indicate. I thought we had good looks. We had about five straight open looks in the second half that we didn't hit. So, we needed to win this game with our rebounding and our defense. And we just didn't do that.''

The Panthers still got their shots, but just couldn't hit them. And Rutgers, the worst shooting team in the Big East, shot 53.7 percent from the field and was 9-for-14 from 3-point range. Guard Corey Chandler led five Scarlet Knights in double figures with 18 points, coming off the bench, while Coburn added 17 and forward JR Inman had 11.

Pitt shot just 38.6 percent from the field (27-for-70) and missed 15 of its first 19 3-point shots. Only Brown's two treys down the stretch made the Panthers 6-for-21 from long range. Junior forward Sam Young, who averaged 21.8 points in the past five games, finished with 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting.

Freshman center DeJuan Blair had 14 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes. He sat a good deal in the second half after picking up two quick fouls to give him three overall. Senior guard Keith Benjamin added 11 points for Pitt, and senior point guard Ronald Ramon had seven assists, but he missed all five of his 3-point attempts and finished with just four points.

"I want to give Rutgers credit, because they hit some pretty tough shots, and we just played bad defense,'' Benjamin said. "Sometimes, you've just got to throw the stats out the window, because they were coming off a great game against Villanova and it steamrolled over to us.

"We did a good job preparing and knew everything that they were going to do and their tendencies, but ... they out-rebounded us by a very large margin and just played harder than us tonight. That usually doesn't happen, especially in this gym, so they deserve credit for that.''

Pitt gets back to work with practices this week to prepare for Villanova Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

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