Many wondered how playing a soft non-conference schedule would impact No. 24 Pitt as it headed into Big East Conference play.
They got their answer Saturday afternoon against Rutgers.
Jamie Dixon’s Panthers fell behind by as many as 16 in the first half, digging themselves an early hole too big to climb out of as they were upset by the Scarlet Knights 67-62, losing their second consecutive conference game to open up their final Big East season.
For the second consecutive game, the Panthers struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter.
Pittsburgh’s inability to hit from the outside caused it to trail 39-25 at halftime and only when they managed to push the ball inside and play much better defense did it get back into the game.
Pitt limited Rutgers to only six points in the opening 12 minutes of the second half to get back in the game and managed to creep within two on a pair of different occasions, but they never could get over the hump.
Pitt’s Durand Johnson banked in a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to pull the Panthers within 53-51 with 4:23 to go but just like against Cincinnati, Pitt failed to come up with a defensive rebound on a missed jumper from the corner by Mike Poole. Dane Miller got the board and fed Jerome Seagears for a layup, which goaltending was called.
After a turnover by Tray Woodall and a missed shot by Miller, Woodall fed Steven Adams for a dunk, cutting the Rutgers lead to 55-53. But Eli Carter hit a short jumper in the lane and the Scarlet Knights were never threatened after that.
Carter came off the Rutgers’ bench to score a game-high 23 points while Myles Mack added 11 points and Miller finished with nine points and six rebounds for the Scarlet Knights.
It was the first win for Rutgers’ head coach Mike Rice since he returned from a three-game suspension. Rice was the former head coach at Robert Morris.
Dixon switched his starting lineup for the first time this season as Cameron Wright started in place of James Robinson, but nothing worked as the Panthers couldn’t find offense in the first half.
They settled for jumpers a lot and shot only 32 percent in the first, making only 4-of-14 from three-point range. On the afternoon, Pitt shot only 37.5 percent from the floor and made only 8-of-26 attempts from behind the arc.
On the contrary, Pitt fell behind early because the Scarlet Knights made their first six shots and 9-of-12 to start the game. Rutgers shot nearly 58 percent from the field (15 of 26), making 6 of 10 from long range during the game’s first 20 minutes. Despite the slow start in the second half, the Scarlet Knights still shot 51.2 percent from the floor for the game.
J.J. Moore came off the Pitt bench and had a team-high 14 points. Woodall added 11, but made only 3-of-11 shot attempts.
Pitt will try and get their first Big East Conference win of the season when they travel to Georgetown Tuesday night.