Wednesday Recap: Pittsburgh May Have Hit Rock Bottom

January 12th, 2012

It was thought that Pittsburgh's loss at DePaul last week was the epitome of "rock bottom" for Jamie Dixon's program, which is still without injured point guard Tray Woodall. But in hindsight that high-scoring defeat at the hands of the Blue Demons was nothing compared to what happened at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday night. Pitt scored the fewest points in their history as a Big East member, falling 62-39 at Rutgers in front of a stunned crowd.

The Panthers shot 21.1% from both the field and from three in the loss, which moved their overall losing streak to five games. Also Pittsburgh is off to their first 0-4 Big East start since the 1999-2000 campaign, when they dropped their first five conference games. J.J. Moore scored ten points off the bench to lead Pittsburgh in scoring, and with Ashton Gibbs making just two of eleven shots and Lamar Patterson faring even worse (1-for-7) Moore's points went for naught.

"Honestly it seemed like they knew our plays," said Gibbs of the Scarlet Knights' defensive effort. "Coach Rice did a good job of scouting us and it led to them making great switches off of screens. We have to do a better job executing our offense." 

Eli Carter led the Scarlet Knights, who were coming off of a 67-60 win over Connecticut, with 14 points while Dane Miller showed off the skills that can make him one of the more versatile producers in the Big East when he's fully engaged with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Rutgers out-rebounded Pittsburgh 51-35 on the night and while the shooting woes definitely played a role in that discrepancy, Rutgers did grab 19 offensive rebounds (22 second-chance points).

"It was the most disappointing thing about the game because that is our main focus," said Nasir Robinson, who finished with four rebounds and no points. "We have to do a better job boxing out and we can't let [teams] out-hustle us." 

Execution is a without a doubt a huge part of winning games, but sometimes what happens on the floor boils down to toughness and how a team responds when hit in the mouth. Pittsburgh didn't respond well when that happened on Wednesday night, and that's the most concerning aspect of the loss going forward. Pitt has long be one of the toughest teams in the Big East, and they need to get that confidence back in order to turn things around.  

Other Notable Happenings 

1. Michigan outlasts Northwestern in overtime, moving to 4-1 in Big Ten play.
Facing a team that plays a similar style of basketball, Northwestern was presented with a great opportunity to bolster their resume with a win at #13 Michigan. But unfortunately for the Wildcats they fell just short, losing 66-64 in overtime. Drew Crawford and John Shurna did what they could, combining for 41 points and 13 rebounds while Crawford added seven assists, but they didn't get much help from their teammates. Dave Sobolewski (nine points) and Reggie Hearn (seven points) both managed to exceed their scoring averages on Wednesday night.

But with Alex Marcotulio scoring just one point and Luka Mirkovic scoring two it was going to be tough for the Wildcats to make that play offensively to get over the hump. Michigan, despite shooting 7-for-30 from three, had better scoring distribution with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke scoring 19 apiece and Stu Douglass adding ten off the bench. Turnovers were ultimately the biggest killer however, as Northwestern turned the ball over a season-high 16 times. To say the least the Wildcats, who have lost their last two games by a combined three points, could have used a few of those lost possessions in the end.   

2. Missouri survives a quiet night from Marcus Denmon to win at Iowa State.
Entering the Tigers' game at Iowa State Denmon averaged 18.7 points per game to lead Frank Haith's team, meaning that anyone told that he made just one field goal would likely expect Missouri to leave Ames with a loss. But despite his off night, and 5-for-21 shooting from three, Missouri won 76-69 thanks in large part to their offensive balance. The other six players to see the floor for Missouri all scored in double figures, with Matt Pressey scoring a team-high 14 and three others scoring 12 points apiece.

And Missouri, generally accepted to be the smallest team in the Big 12, out-rebounded the Cyclones 36-25 and outscored them 40-20 in the paint. Missouri also did a better job defensively in the second half, challenging more looks as ISU shot 4-for-11 from three after making eight of twelve in the first half. Iowa State doesn't have the size that teams such as Kansas State and Baylor possess, but they were a good challenge for the Tigers on the heels of their first loss of the season. And with their leading scorer having an off night, Denmon's teammates stepped up their play and earned an important victory as a result.  

3. Temple rebounds from their loss to Dayton, winning at Saint Louis.
One important aspect of league play when looking to contend for a conference title is to make sure losses don't turn into losing streaks. Temple was able to do that as they went to Saint Louis and won 72-67. Khalif Wyatt led the way with 22 points and Ramone Moore added 18 as the Owls moved to 1-1 in Atlantic 10 play. Kwamain Mitchell knocked down some big shots late in hopes of pulling the Billikens ahead, but Temple did a good job of limiting his quality looks (6-for-16 FG) for much of the night.

The three-point shot, or SLU's inability to knock the shots down, proved to be the difference as Saint Louis shot 6-for-16 while Temple made five of their seven. Fran Dunphy's team did a good job of not settling for deep shots, shooting 56.6% from the field. With Xavier looking like a team that's starting to return to form, this was a critical game for both Temple and Saint Louis in regards to winning the A-10 crown. Thanks in large part to their solid shot selection, Temple picked up a nice result on the road. 

Quick Hitters

1. The top two teams both won games by margins that would fool the casual observer. Syracuse was far more dominant in their 79-66 win over Villanova than that score would indicate, and Kentucky closed their 68-53 win at Auburn with a 23-6 run. 

2. With all the consternation surrounding the ACC's lack of depth, NC State losing 82-71 to Georgia Tech at home won't help matters. Four Yellow Jacket starters reached double figures and Glen Rice Jr. scored 22 off the bench, and the visitors also made nine of fifteen deep. The Wolfpack shot 5-for-19 from deep, and that's essentially where the game was lost. 

3. No matter how talented they are, Southern Miss just can't seem to get over the hump in their series with Memphis. The Tigers won their 18th straight in the series, 60-58, with Chris Crawford's two free throws being the difference. Cedric Jenkins, who committed the foul that sent Crawford to the line with 31.6 seconds left in a tie game, missed a three as time expired.  

4. While Temple did a good job of bouncing back from their loss to Dayton, the Flyers didn't do a great job of dealing with prosperity as they lost 81-73 at St. Bonaventure. Andrew Nicholson led the Bonnies with 30 points and 13 rebounds and the home team made 24 of 28 free throws as well, while Dayton shot 11-for-30 from three.

5. Old Dominion didn't shoot well as they made just 36.4% of their shots, but the Monarchs made up for it by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds in a 68-66 overtime win at Delaware. Kent Bazemore scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the way for ODU, who moved to 4-1 in CAA play. 

6. After dropping their MAC opener at Bowling Green on Saturday, Ohio rebounded with a 60-52 win over Buffalo in Athens. D.J. Cooper led the way with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Buffalo's Javon McCrea made just four of thirteen shots from the field. 

7. They were picked in the preseason poll to finish 4th in the Patriot League by the coaches but Lafayette is off to a good start, moving to 2-0 in conference play with a 75-63 win over Army. Rob Delaney scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Leopards while Levi Giese scored ten off the bench. Does Fran O'Hanlon's team have enough firepower to hang with preseason favorite Bucknell? We'll find out on Saturday when they host the Bison.   

8. Out west, Colorado State picked up a nice win as they beat Denver 79-75 in Fort Collins. Wes Eikmeier scored 22 points while Greg Smith (17 points, seven rebounds) and Dorian Green (15 points) also played well. CSU now moves into conference play, where they have the ability to be a factor in the league race. 

Three Notable Performances 

1. F/C Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure)
30 points and 13 rebounds in the Bonnies' 81-73 win over Dayton.

2. G Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion)
27 points and 12 rebounds in the Monarchs' 68-66 overtime win at Delaware.

3. F Davante Gardner (Marquette)
22 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots in the Golden Eagles' 81-63 win over St. John's.