Coming off a win at Villanova, the Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team came back home to the Petersen Events Center, a place where they have lost two straight conference games, and they emerged victorious over the visiting Connecticut Huskies by a 69-61 score.
“This was a great win for us,” Panthers Head Coach Jamie Dixon said. “We knocked down free throws in the second half. I’m proud of our guys. We had out best free throw shooters out there knocking them down, so I thought we really executed.”
Talib Zanna was a big part of the first four minutes of play scoring six points including a circus shot close to the basket that drew a foul. The Huskies went fouled three times while shooting but were only able to make half of those shots.
It was a 10-7 Panthers lead at the first media timeout.
For almost 10 minutes, UConn struggled to make shots from the field making just three shots, one of which from three point range.
The crow which was excited throughout the game was extremely fired up when James Robinson missed a runner only to have Trey Ziegler tip the ball in. His encouraged the crowd to get louder and they obliged. The lead was 19-11 at that point.
The Panthers showed good ball movement, including a sequence where Cam Wright found Tray Woodall, and Woodall found Lamar Patterson for a wide open three.
At the half, Pitt lead 35-22.
Going into the first media timeout of the second half, the Panthers kept a 12 point lead. They were outrebounding the Huskies which was a key to their lead.
The bench also got into the game as everyone but Durand Johnson scored points in this contest.
The ball movement continued when Patterson passed up a three in favor of the higher percentage two from Ziegler.
UConn did make a run thanks to a couple of threes from Omar Calhoun. It kept them in the game and kept the Panthers honest. Ryan Boatwright also was a solid offensive force for Connecticut in this game.
A big play came when Woodall was fouled while attempting a mid-range jumper and it became a three point play.
Again though, UConn made sure that the Panthers could not win easy and made another run squaring the game.
“UConn made shots, they made plays to get back and tie it up, but down the stretch we came up with the rebounds,” Dixon said.
Woodall would answer with a three, however Boatright made a two that became a three point play due to a foul.
On the next Panthers possession it was Dante Taylor passing up a rather open look at two in favor of an open three from Robinson. Freshman Robinson would make the three point basket and the Panthers would lead 61-58 after the final media timeout.
The Panthers were able to play tough in the final minutes and Taylor made two big free throws and further pumped up the crowd by making a two inside of a minute. A timeout was called and he flexed for the Zoo. The Panthers held a 65-59 lead with 58 seconds to play in regulation.
:I definitely want to stp up for my team being a senior,” Taylor said. “I definitely wanted to get this home win and didn’t want to lose another one here.”
This win was an important one as it showed that unlike previous games, they could grab early leads against tough competition and have them hold.
“In the games we lost, we let them go at the end,” Lamar Patterson said. “Today it showed that even with a momentum change we fought through for the victory.”
“That’s the Big East. It’s a tough league and we know that UConn is a tough team. The fans stuck behind us and there was a great atmosphere out there. We fed off of them and we stuck with it.”
The win moved the Panthers to 15-4 on the season and evened their record to 3-3 in the Big East. Up next is a road contest Tuesday at Providence. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and be shown on ESPN2.
He said, he said: UConn did end up playing Shabazz Napier, their leading scorer, however he was battling an injury. While Head Coach Kevin Ollie told media postgame that Napier was, ‘100 percent’ it was another story with Boatright and the man himself, Napier.
“Shabazz’s shoulder is hurt,” Boatright said. “As anyone could tell he wasn’t himself.
Napier was cleared to play yesterday and felt a hitch in his shoulder but encountered some additional problems in the game.
“I couldn’t dribble with my left hand,” Napier said. “I tried to get to the middle and drove with my left at the end of half time but it hit my arm resulting in a turnover. I’m usually able to fix that contact and get a shot up but I wasn’t able to dribble with my left hand.”
Napier finished with eight points