In Pitt’s victory Sunday over St. Johns, it looked like the Panthers simply flicked a switch to heat up at both ends of the floor in the second half.
They flicked that same switch Wednesday night against South Florida.
After struggling offensively for much of the game, the Panthers turned it on in the second half in a 64-44 Big East Conference victory.
Trailing 30-28 in the second half with just under 16 minutes remaining, and shooting only 27.6 percent for the game, the Panthers exploded with a 16-1 run to open things up.
“I just wanted them to play basketball,” said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. “We were easy to guard there for a while. But we got more patient and ended up getting better looks. We got more movement by taking a couple extra seconds and we got better shot attempts.”
South Florida was able to stay in the game largely in part to the fact that Pitt made only 7-of-26 shots in the first half, including a ton of blown layups.
But forward Talib Zanna hammered down a dunk and drew a foul that seemed to energize the Panthers, who were flat for the game’s first 25 minutes.
Tray Woodall and Durand Johnson followed with back-to-back three’s and the Panthers never looked back.
“It was pretty ugly out there in the first half,” said Woodall. “We just weren’t making shots out there. Coach gave us free reign out there and just told us to just go out and play basketball. We were getting open looks all night. Eventually they started falling.”
While it ended up being a going away 20 point win, similar to the St. Johns game, it was a much closer game all around until the 15 minute mark.
The Pitt offense certainly played their part, as the Panthers ended up outscoring USF 36-14 the final 15 minutes, but their defense stepped things up as well, limiting the Bulls to only 26.1 percent (6-of-23) shooting in the second half.
The story of the season though has been when the Panthers out rebound the opposition- they win games. Tonight was no different.
Pitt controlled the glass, outrebounding the Bulls 42-25 on the night, including 14 offensive rebounds. Eleven of those offensive boards came in the first half, which helped Pitt stay in the game even though they struggled big time from the floor.
Senior Dante Taylor turned in one of the better games of his career, with 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Taylor’s points were timely as every time he scored he seemed to fuel a Panthers’ run.
“I have been working very hard,” said Taylor. “I thought I could have some success because they don’t have the most physical big men. It was nice to have a game like this in my second to last home game.”
In addition to the rebounding effort, a large part of the success that the Panthers had defensively were due to Taylor and Steven Adams dominating the paint, as Adams had a career-high five blocks.
“Steven did a great job,” said Dixon. “Their bigs play mostly on the perimeter and he had to come out and guard that and get back in the paint to defend. That’s something he hasn’t had to do before and he is adjusting very nicely.”
Woodall led the Panthers with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half. In addition all 10 Pitt players scored in the game as the Panthers bench outscored that of South Florida 28-9.
South Florida’s Victor Rudd had a game-high 16 points, but made only 7-of-19 attempts.
“We played well for a while,” said South Florida head coach Stan Heath. “We just weren’t able to sustain it and once we quit making shots against a team like that, it was pretty much over.”