GETTING INSIDE No. 17 Pittsburgh will complete the first half of the Big East schedule at South Florida Sunday afternoon at 1. The Panthers are in third place with a 6-2 record and appear to be in a comfortable position in the Conference.
If Pitt can get to 7-2 at the midway point, it certainly would be much more comfortable. Here is why: After South Florida, Pitt plays three games against ranked teams in the first 21 days of February, including West Virginia twice in a nine-day span, home and away.
The Panthers also play host to Villanova. The other Big East games are against Seton Hall, which already beat Pitt this season, and at Marquette, where Pitt has trouble winning.
If Pitt wants to have any shot at competing for one of the top four spots and a double bye during the Big East Tournament, it probably has to beat the Bulls.
Pitt has enjoyed success against South Florida since the Bulls joined the Big East. The Panthers are 3-0 against USF since 2006, including a 75-62 win in Tampa in 2008. All three games have been decided by 13 points or more.
PITT 63, ST. JOHN'S 53: After shooting only 29 percent and scoring just 24 points in the first half, the Panthers shot 52 percent and scored 39 points after halftime to pull away. Junior guard Bradley Wanamaker scored 13 of his 16 points after halftime. Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs scored 14 points, while junior center Gary McGhee added 10 points.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Panthers, who got their best defensive effort in weeks. They held St. John's to a 32.8-percent shooting night. Their previous five opponents had all shot 44 percent or better from the field.
Pitt held St. John's to eight field goals in the second half and 26 percent shooting. The Red Storm did not make a field goal in the final 5:33 of the game.
--Sophomore G Ashton Gibbs led the team with 23 points against the Seton Hall, but that was mostly because he made all 14 of his free throw attempts. From the field, he went 4-of-15 overall and 1-of-7 from 3-point range, and he turned the ball over three times without an assist. Over his last three games, Gibbs was 11-for-43 from the field.
Nobody shot the ball well against the Pirates, and certainly not from the outside, considering the team went 4-for-17 from 3-point range. But this was a game that the Panthers could have won had they shot the ball better and played a little less sloppy on offense, and that missed opportunity cost the team a share of second place in the Big East.
--On a day when it struggled with turnovers and shot the ball poorly from the field, Pitt gave itself a chance against Seton Hall with a stellar performance from the free-throw line. The Panthers made 21 of the team's 24 attempts, with Ashton Gibbs going 14-for-14.
--The Panthers' loss to Seton Hall was the team's first on the road this season. Pitt entered the day with a 4-0 record away from home, having won at Duquesne, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut.
ON THE SPOT: St. John's dominated Pitt on the boards, 41-31. The Red Storm had 19 offensive rebounds, becoming only the second opponent this season to outrebound the Panthers. Wichita State was the other.
Pitt cannot afford to give its opponents extra opportunities, especially when the Panthers are struggling with their offensive game. The rebounding is something the Panthers must get back on track before they play South Florida.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This group, we all like each other. We build chemistry off the court, and that helps on the court. We have that feeling that we have our brother's back on the court. We're all trying to stick together.'' -- Pitt guard Travon Woodall said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: After beginning the Big East season with five wins in a row, the Panthers dropped a pair of conference games to Georgetown and Seton Hall last week. A big culprit was the team's offense, which averaged 63.5 points over the two defeats.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Brad Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G/F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall.
Pittsburgh 82, Louisville 77 (OT)
Georgetown 74, Pittsburgh 66
Seton Hall 64, Pittsburgh 61
Pittsburgh 63, St. John's 53
at South Florida, Saturday, Jan. 31
at West Virginia, Wednesday, Feb. 3
vs. Seton Hall, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Robert Morris, Monday, Feb. 8
IN FOCUS: The Panthers won the only meeting with South Florida last season, taking a 75-62 decision at the Petersen Events Center. The Bulls' Dominique Jones, who is averaging 21 points this season, had a game-high 22 in that game.
--G Ashton Gibbs' offensive struggles continued against St. John's. Gibbs scored 14 points, but he was 5-for-13 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. It was the first time he did not make a 3-pointer since Pitt's season opener against Wofford. Gibbs is 16-for-56 (28.6 percent) from the field in the past four games. Pitt is 2-2 in those games.
--Junior C Gary McGhee scored 10 points against St. John's for his first double-figure scoring effort in almost two months. McGhee had gone 12 consecutive games without scoring in double figures. The previous time he did it was a double-overtime victory in a Dec. 2 game against Duquesne.
--Junior F Gilbert Brown set career highs with eight rebounds and five assists against St. John's. Brown was also 7-for-10 from the free-throw line and the only player to miss a foul shot for the Panthers, who finished 21-for-24 from the line.
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