In one of its closest wins, Pitt may have showed just how good they are.
Despite shooting 35% from the field, 31% from three-point range, and dishing out only eight assists, the team was able to bring home a 65-62 win in a hostile environment at Rutgers on Saturday.
Say what you will about Pitt's poor performance, but the fact is when the chips were down, they came through.
This may not be a great win, but it's a road win in conference, so it's tough to complain about it. From watching on TV, you could tell the atmosphere was crazy. I can only imagine what it was like in person. The RAC is known as a tough place to play, so when they threw up the graphic about the team never beating a top five team, I was shocked. Playing in the Big East, I'm sure they've had plenty of opportunities. And I can't believe no one's walked into that mousetrap yet.
I also found it amusing how former Pitt assistant Mike Rice was uber annoying for most of the night, and was bordering on Calhoun-esqe. Despite the refs jobbing both teams (and trust me, I'll get to that later), Rice apparently thought his team got the worst of it. True, Pitt shot twice the number of free throws that Rutgers did, but the refs were abundantly awful against the road team as well.
One of the ways Pitt countered their horrible shooting was by performing well in an area that is typically a weakness - at the free line. Pitt made 80% of its free throws and, even more importantly, drilled its last nine late in the game. The Panthers shot 17 more free throws than Rutgers, which leads me to my next point.
If you read this blog even passively, you know that complaining about refs isn't my M.O. I generally think calls are missed on both sides and unless there's a crucial call late in the game, think that the refs usually make enough good or bad calls for each team to balance things out. That said, the refs in this game were downright awful. I don't know what it was, but they were in such a hurry to call every little foul that even complete non-fouls were called - on several occasions.
You don't need any further proof than the fact that Gary McGhee fouled out in this game. Despite being a center on a team that plays extremely physically, McGhee never before fouled out in his career. Heck, he's only even had four fouls twice in his entire career. He was whistled more than once on some bad calls. Some of the refs' calls were downright astonishing and this crew should be given a long look before being able to officiate a Big East game again.
Still, before he fouled out, McGhee was able to tie his career high with 13 points. But without Ashton Gibbs, this team has no shot to win this game.
Gibbs also tied his career high with 24 points and hit a huge three-point shot to give Pitt a late four-point lead. He really deserves much more than the footnote I'm giving him, but at this point, what can you say? When he's on, he hits big-time shots and he might be as close to a 'go to' as Pitt has.
Gil Brown had a rough night and I'm not sure which was worse - getting posterized by Dane Miller on a dunk (though Gil came from the other side of the paint, to be fair) or front-rimming a dunk of his own fairly late in the game. Still, after all the dunks he's thrown down over the years, he's entitled to a few bad plays.
Now for a week off until Pitt hosts Cincinnati. Let's hope the team does some practicing on how to push the tempo a bit more. The word is out as Notre Dame and Rutgers have officially given the blueprint for success against the Panthers - patience on offense and keeping the scoring in the 50s. I don't know how many teams have the patience to slow the game down that much, but that's clearly a strategy that seems to be able to work against Pitt.
And, oh yeah, there's that whole tenth straight 20-win season thing.