Cincinnati had several big plays—three-pointers, forced turnovers. Pitt didn’t have an answer, and they eventually fell to the Bearcats 66-63 at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday night. The loss marks Pitt’s first 0-2 start to Big East play since the 1999-2000 season; the first year of the Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon era. It also marks just the second Cincinnati win over Pitt in the last ten meetings.
Nasir Robinson led Pitt with 19 points, followed by Ashton Gibbs with 18 and Lamar Patterson with 13. The Panthers also dominated on the boards—a 44-30 edge, led by Dante Taylor with 11 and Robinson with 10. Cincinnati had three players in double-figures, led by Jaquon Parker with a career-high 21, Sean Kilpatrick with 19 and Dion Dixon with 13.
The biggest difference in the game was the turnovers—Pitt with 17, and Cincinnati with 8. With that sizable advantage, the Bearcats converted that into a 20-9 edge in points off turnovers. They also held a 16-4 edge in fastbreak points, but the turnover margin and what Cincinnati was able to do with those turnovers was the most visible difference in this game.
Cincinnati’s press didn’t affect Pitt too much early—meaning it didn’t force any turnovers in the first few minutes. The Panthers didn’t really do anything to beat the press either. It looked like a non-competitive battle early on, as both teams were feeling each other out.
Pitt’s defensive presence—something Dante Taylor alluded to entering the game, as an area that the team needed to show up with—was there more than it had been in its last two games. Taylor had a pair of blocks early on. Pitt coughed up the ball with some bad passes. The two teams were tied early on, at 5-5.
Cameron Wright started at the point for Travon Woodall, and he did some good things early bringing the ball up and on defense. John Johnson came in for Wright, and sparked Pitt to a series of impressive offensive plays. His first try was a nice runner that went in, but was called off after a travel. On the next possession, Johnson fed Talib Zanna for an easy dunk. He then set up J.J. Moore for an easy layup, then finished one on his own—a drive to the hole with good ball protection off a feed from Isaiah Epps—who passed up an open look. Pitt led 15-11 at the halfway point of the second half. Jamie Dixon got a bit of a a scare later in the half, when Johnson banged knees with another Cincinnati player. Johnson lay on the floor for awhile, as Dixon and Tony Salesi tended to him. After a few minutes, Johnson was able to walk off on his own power. It was called a brusied knee. He returned two minutes into the second half. Talib Zanna also missed the last few minutes of the second half, going down with a bruised nose.
Cincinnati’s only spark on offense came from JaQuon Parker who had nine of the Bearcats’ first 11 points on a trio of three-pointers. He finished with four three-pointers in the first half, and 16 of the Bearcats’ 31 points in the first half.
Nasir Robinson was also a factor in the first half, leading Pitt with eight points including three second-chance baskets . He was a big factor in Pitt holding a 14-2 edge in points in the paint over the Bearcats in the first 13 minutes of the half. As the Panthers stumbled towards the final seven minutes of the half, Cincinnati closed that gap to 16-14 by halftime.
Pitt led by as many as eight in the first half, and got a big three from Lamar Patterson to build a five-point lead late in the half. Gibbs added another three—his first in the last two games—to keep Pitt’s lead at five, 27-22.
After both of those threes, however, Pitt couldn’t build on it. In both cases, they let Cincinnati hang around. Cincinnati added a couple quick buckets—including one of a tip of a missed rebound attempt by Zanna. The ball bounced in, as Cincinnati trailed by just one. Gibbs answered by converting a pair of free throws, to give the Panthers a little breathing room. Kilpatrick added a three-pointer to tie the game at 29-29, with under a minute to go in the half.
Robinson hit a pair of free throws to give Pitt the lead again, at 31-29. Parker concluded an impressive first half with one last bucket, tying it for his team at the half. Though the Bearcats held one early lead a minute and a half in the game, they were never able to regain the lead in the first half. At the same time, Pitt led by as many as eight, and also held five-point leads on two other occasions. They couldn’t pull any further ahead.
Cashmere Wright—held scoreless in the first half and entering the game with 11.4 points a game—got back on track in a hurry to start the second half. He connected on a runner, and a wide-open jumper to give Cincinnati an early 35-31 lead. Gibbs answered with a three-pointer. Patterson followed with another three, as Pitt got the lead back, 37-35. The Bearcats had an answer once again. As Johnson returned to the game, bringing the ball up the floor, he was stripped of the ball by Parker. Parker took it in for an easy layup. Cincinnati led 42-39 less than four minutes in the first half. Dixon was forced to call his first timeout of the half, a 30-second timeout.
Pitt answered with a jumper from Gibbs then a layup inside from Robinson off another feed from Johnson. Pitt cut the deficit to one, 45-44. This in light of Cincinnati big man Justin Jackson picking up his third foul. The only other player 6-8 or taller on the floor was redshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines (6-10). Gaines has played sparingly, but interestingly only played two minutes in the first half. Cronin admitted that Gaines is not ready for this type of game.
Robinson picked up another big basket underneath, then it was Gibbs again from long-range. That put Pitt back up 48-47. Again, though, just like they had all night, the Bearcats had an answer. A three-pointer from Kilpatrick gave his team the lead again. Patterson answered for Pitt, converting a layup of his own, tying the score at 50-50, as the halfway point of the second half approached.
Cincinnati came back with the press. Gibbs got by with a jumper, and Patterson worked the ball up before finding Robinson, who finished with another easy layup. Kilpatrick answered with another three. The Bearcats held on to a two-point lead after the three from Gibbs. Kilpatrick launched another open three-point attempt, but missed. Robinson reached up for the rebound, and was fouled in the process—giving Pitt a big possession with 6:28 left.
Gibbs made an errant pass with the shot clock winding down. Jackson picked up the loose ball, and converted the easy layup on the other end. Cincinnati led 61-57 with 5:29 left.
Pitt got somewhat of a break. Mick Cronin had to go to an even smaller lineup as his big man, 6-8 Justin Jackson, picked up his fourth foul with five minutes left. Jermaine Sanders, a 6-5 forward, replaced Jackson and was the tallest player on the floor for the Bearcats.
Pitt went to zone, and Cincinnati still was able to hit the threes. After John Johnson turned the ball over on a bad pass, Dion Dixon hit a three to extend Cincinnati’s lead to 66-59.
Pitt had three chances to tie or take the lead with under a minute to play. On the first try, an offensive possession, the Panthers took a little too much time trying to get an open look from three-point range. Gibbs and Patterson passed up looks. Johnson lunged into his shot, and was fouled. He converted two of his three shots, trimming the gap to 66-63.
On the ensuing possession, Cincinnati missed its half of a one-and-one. Robinson came down with the rebound, giving Pitt the ball with 24 seconds left in a one-possession game. Gibbs passed up another look, feeding the ball to Johnson. Johnson drove to the ball, looking to draw a charge. Instead, he picked up the foul—his fifth.
Cincinnati couldn’t close the deal, as they failed on its one-and-one attempt. Pitt had the ball again. This time, the thought process was to try to get Gibbs the ball. He was defended tightly by Kilpatrick. It looked as though Gibbs launched a three-pointer from the wing, and was fouled. Instead, Dixon called a timeout with 2.6 seconds left to set one last play up. Patterson took a long in-bounds pass, and his shot bounced off the rim.
Stay tuned for postgame reaction from Pitt players and coaches.