The last time Pitt played at Madison Square Garden...well, I don't need to tell you nor remind you what happened (R.I.P. Gary McGhee's ankles). So, it was good to see Pitt have a solid performance at their "home away from home."
As with virtually every Jamie Dixon-coached team, you never know who is going to star on a given night. Sure, you have your 'go to' options - Nasir Robinson (15 points, six rebounds) and Ashton Gibbs (17 points, two rebounds, two assists). Today at Madison Square Garden, it was Lamar Patterson's turn to shine. Patterson nearly had a triple double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists as Pitt held off a late Cowboys' rally.
Since getting outrebounded by Penn, Pitt has dominated the glass against their next five opponents, winning the rebounding margin by an average of 15 boards (largely due to the insane rebounding done against VMI). Against the Cowboys, Pitt won the rebounding margin 37-24.
Offensively, the Panthers started out great, shooting 57% in the 1st half, including 4-7 from three-point range. Gibbs led the way with 12 points in the first half, followed by Robinson with eight. The second half saw the Panthers give up a 16-point lead that eventually dwindled down to five (71-66) with just 18 seconds left due to careless and sloppy turnovers. Pitt had a number of offensive fouls in the second half that allowed Oklahoma State to get back in the game. But Pitt played good defense in the second half, as OSU shot 26-62 in the game. It was a similar performance that Pitt had in their first game against Connecticut last season. The Huskies, while they made a lot of shots, took many shots to do so.Playing in the Garden, you had to think that the younger guys on both sides may be a little overwhelmed by the experience. That was seen in OSU freshman star Le'Bryan Nash, who finished with 20 points, but started out very slow, hitting only 3-7 of his shots in the first half. Pitt's younger players also weren't immune to some lackluster play as well. John Johnson, for the first time this season, really seemed to struggle with the ball today, turning the ball over four times while only taking two shots.
Khem Birch, after having a standout performance against Penn which earned him a spot in the starting lineup, hasn't lived up to that performance since then. Against Oklahoma State, he only scored five points today. He continues though to be a strong defender, so it makes sense to play him, though, and with another season, his offensive game can catch up. Hopefully when these freshmen return to the Garden in early March for the Big East Tournament, they'll be ready to shine.
Other than the usual problems (free-throw shooting, not closing out opponents), this was a nice win. This game was probably the first time this season that I came away, for the most part, pleased with the defensive showing by the team. It seemed like for the first time this season, Pitt actually played Pitt basketball. Good defense and rebounding, good shot selection, and an efficient offense.
The Panthers have the week off for finals before retaking the court on Saturday night at the Pete against South Carolina State.