The atmosphere was there for a ranked showdown between the 24th ranked Pittsburgh Panthers and the eighth ranked Cincinnati Bearcats. It was the Bearcats who would get the win, taking it 70-61.
“Obviously we’re pleased with the victory,” Bearcats Head Coach Mick Cronin said. “Not many people win here, and I don’t think many people are going to win here this year. Pitt’s a very different basketball team than it was a year ago. We were well aware of that.
The Panthers came out and played inspired. Winning the tip, freshman James Robinson immediately provided an impact finishing on a lay-up despite a bit of contact. Talib Zanna then made a two despite the foul forcing an early Bearcats timeout.
At the first media timeout, the Panthers led 8-2 and Zanna had four points and Cincinnati struggled to hang onto the ball as they had three turnovers.
Pitt continued their momentum taking a 12-4 lead however the Bearcats came in 12-1 for a reason and quickly cut the Panther lead to 14-12 at the halfway point of the first half. The Panthers were able to keep their lead though.
Zanna was a force inside getting 10 first half points however Cashmere Wright made a three despite the foul from Robinson cutting the lead to 25-24.
Cincinnati tied the game at 26 but Lamar Patterson untied it and the Panthers went on an 8-0 run at the half. The run was culminated by Cameron Wright making a three in the final Pitt possession. When the Bearcats misfired on their last possession, it was Wright who fired up the Oakland Zoo and led the Panthers in a run to the locker room.
“We thought we were in good shape the whole game, we never doubted each other,” Cam Wright said. “We wanted to win this game.”
Having lost to New Mexico in their last game, the Bearcats did not want to lose twice in a row.
“It was a big game because it’s hard to lose two games and stay where we need to be,” Cashmere Wright said. “We’ve got to win games on the road to show we’re a big team.”
The Bearcats kept up with the Panthers coming out of the break and Sean Kilpatrick made a three.
With 13:44 left in regulation, the Panthers inbounded and Patterson made a lay-up despite the foul and sank the free throw as the team stayed ahead 41-36.
Wright was huge for the Panthers providing valuable minutes off the bench and keeping the Panthers in the lead when needed, especially considering their struggles with the pressure defense.
With 10:14 left in regulation, the Bearcats took their first lead of the game when Titus Rubles made a basket and was fouled. Upon making the free throw, they were up 45-43. A big three from Cashmere Wright put the Bearcats up 50-45 extending the lead and forcing a Pitt timeout with 8:45 left in the second half. The 16-4 Cincinnati run went onto the media timeout where with 7:48 left the Panthers trailed 52-45.
The Panthers struggled to get rebounds down the stretch. A big reason for that was seven-foot-one David Nyarsuk who grabbed many important rebounds and then with 1:38 made a dagger dunk to put Cincinnati up 62-55.
“That was huge,” Cronin said. “He’s a confident guy, and he’s not afraid. If you could bottle that in every recruit, that’s all I would go after. You just don’t know until you get a guy. He’s not the strongest guy, but he doesn’t run from contact.”
Pitt would not give in though and Zanna made an important two and was fouled in the process. Zanna missed the free throw but Lamar Patterson got the rebound and made a huge lay-up. The Panthers stole the ball off the in-bound but Tray Woodall fouled to convert the front end of the one-in-one.
Cincinnati had the game won after that and made the necessary free throws down the stretch to take the game.
“Pitt is going to always be great,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s always going to be a battle with them, and they’re going to give us their best.”
Patterson was complimentary of Cincinnati.
“They just got after it,” Patterson said. “We didn’t come out the way we should have. I feel like they were the tougher team today.”
Cashmere Wright led all scorers with 18 points and Zanna had top honors for the Panthers with 16 points.
Up next is a January 5th matchup at Rutgers.
1. Cashmere Wright said that the gameplan was to wear Pitt out citing their long break and how hard it is to come out and play a full 40 minutes.
2. Pitt outrebounded Cincinnati by four in the first half but ended the game being outrebounded by five.
3. Freshman Steven Adams had nine rebounds but the zero points and four fouls were both huge issues.
4. The Panthers were 0-10 from three point range and Patterson was 0-5 himself. The last time the Panthers failed to make a three pointer in a game was March 12, 2009 against West Virginia in the Big East Tournament.
5. At halftime, the Pitt football team was recognized. The entire team and Head Coach Paul Chryst went onto the court to applause from the fans. Sweet Caroline played as well as fans joined in the tradition.
This game to me appeared to be a carbon copy of the Michigan game. This is a game this team needs to win but again it shows how far the Panthers have to go to become a good team again. The Panthers lost to an experienced Bearcats team. The Panthers did not deserve to be ranked in the first place as they faced no competition minus Michigan – another game they blew. Pitt is a tough team but they were outrebounded, and I am unsure how ready they are for the big moment. Considering the Big East, there aren’t many slouches and Pitt cannot rest on their accomplishments from earlier this season.
He said it-
Cronin on James Robinson- “James Robinson plays like he’s 30. I mean that as a compliment. He’s very poised and he was impressive.”