Pitt improved to 2-0 on the season with a 97-54 win over Illinois-Chicago before 9,148 fans at the Petersen Events Center.
Ashton Gibbs led the way with 24 points--one point shy of tying a career-high. Brad Wanamaker finished with 17 points, and finished just one assist and four rebounds shy of a triple-double. Only three other times has a Pitt player reached a triple-double in school history. For a second game in a row, Pitt’s 1-2 punch out of the backcourt, proved to be most lethal.
“Wanamaker just said he’s going to get in there and make plays, and get to the rim and find teammates,” Illinois-Chicago head coach Howard Moore said after the game. “He absolutely did that. Gibbs was like an assassin out there offensively. I thought they did a tremendous job playing off each other.”
Gibbs finished with five three-pointers in the game. What’s more important was the way he was finding his three-point shots. They weren’t forced, he had plenty of time to shoot, and he had an easy time picking his spots. The most damaging aspect of it from the Illinois-Chicago side, was that Gibbs’ three-pointers took a little wind out of their sail each time he connected.
“It was taking advantage of what the defense gave us,” Gibbs said. “We saw different gaps in their defense, and just took advantage of it. We kicked the ball over to open teammates, and that’s what (head) coach (Jamie) Dixon stresses in practice. We just carry everything over into the game.”
Pitt opened up to a 14-4 lead in the first six minutes, and although it was more of the same from Wanamaker and Gibbs, the Panthers established a bigger presence inside--especially on the offensive boards. Dante Taylor was the first substitute in the game, coming in for Gary McGhee just three minutes into the game. Taylor owned the glass during his first shift, grabbing four rebounds in a span of three minutes of the first half--including three offensive boards--as Pitt built a 22-8 lead nine minutes in. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds for the game--seven of which were offensive boards.
It was Zanna who started at the four again, but in this game, Taylor was the more sure-handed rebounder. Pitt held a 16-3 edge in rebounds in the first eight minutes, and edged the Flames 45-25 for the game, which included 17 offensive rebounds. Dixon cited the stronger inside presence--both offensively and defensively--as a big improvement from just two nights ago.
“I like how we improved in the second half--especially how we improved in our interior defense--our post defense,” Dixon said. “That’s really what was hurting us the most by all of our defenders, not just our big guys. We got better at that in the second half.”
Though Taylor had some quality minutes for McGhee, the 6-10 senior came on strong in the second half to also finish with nine points and eight rebounds.
Pitt held a 40-26 lead at halftime, but started losing some of its momentum in the final ten minutes of the first half. It was a combination of turnovers, and the fact that Illinois-Chicago was capitalizing on those turnovers. Big man K.C. Robbins put together a couple of layups off Pitt turnovers, as his team trailed 41-27. Jamie Dixon was forced to call a timeout. Robbins scored 12 of the Flames’ 29 first half points.
Gibbs said at halftime, despite leading by 14, the team was not pleased with the direction the game was going.
“We weren’t happy (at halftime),” Gibbs said. “We felt that we could have played stronger on defense, played tougher. Some of the big guys, they created a little more than they should have. We weren’t happy at halftime, Coach Dixon wasn’t. He stressed defense, and rebounding. We came out strong, and we got the win.”
The Panthers came out and shot 70 percent in the second half. Even though it was Wanamaker and Gibbs leading the way--as they were all game--the Panthers got quality minutes from other players like McGhee, Taylor and Gilbert Brown. Brown rebounded from a sluggish first game on Monday night, to finish with 12 points and six rebounds. Brown took more drives, and was more active on the glass. McGhee and Taylor were strong on the offensive boards, and second-chance points.
Though players like Wanamaker and Gibbs can take Pitt far, the biggest difference from Monday night’s win was that more of the players around them contributed when the team needed them to--specifically McGhee and Taylor--giving Pitt the inside presence that was lacking on Monday night.
“They were very productive,” Gibbs said of his teammates. “Gary ran the court really well. Dante had a couple nice highlights there too. They’re getting better. They’re progressing each and every day. I think the good thing is they work hard in practice every day. It’s really showing in the game right now. The best is yet to come for both of them.”