You'd never be able to tell it from the first half, but Pitt did just fine in their first game without Ashton Gibbs. They played far from a perfect game, but in the end, Pitt made clutch shot after clutch shot on their way to a 71-66 road win.
The ladies team got things rolling on Saturday beating 14th-ranked West Virginia on the road and tonight, it was the men's turn.
This may not look like a big win on paper at the end of the season, but trust me - it was. It was a road win in a tough place to play against a bitter rival. And when you throw in the fact that Pitt was able to win without its best player after the first half they had, this was a huge victory.
Pitt couldn't get much of anything going in the first half. Their 23 first-half points were the fewest they scored all season long and the Panthers were shooting only 29% after that first half. I knew they'd play better, because, well, they frankly couldn't play any worse.
Without a great offensive game, Pitt went back to its old staple:
"We really focused on rebounding," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We cut down their offensive rebounds. We won with our rebounding and defense and that's what we set out to do."
Rebounding was the only area that Pitt really dominated on Monday - they finished with a +14 advantage.
As I mentioned over in the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, it seemed that Pitt found a way to get to the basket more in the second half. After checking out the Play-by-Play on ESPN.com, it turns out that was absolutely correct. Only 13 of the team's 31 shots (42%) in the first half were layups. In the second half, 17 of their 28 shots (61%) were layups as the team constantly found ways to get to the basket and find easy shots around the rim. Guys were driving to the basket and simply making plays.
"They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it," Huggins said. "They just outmanned us."
Huggins said without Gibbs, "they just attack the rim."
In the first half, "we converged on the guys that were driving," Huggins said.
The second half was another matter.
Travon Woodall who filled in for the injured Gibbs rebounded from an awful first half (1-6 from the field for four points) to have a pretty decent game. He finished 4-11 and chipped in 12 points, three rebounds, two steals, and maybe most importantly, had only one turnover. He also hit a big three-pointer down the stretch (coincidentally, Pitt's only one of the whole game).
Gary McGhee had a solid game going 5-6 from the field and ended with 13 points and six rebounds. But he was stymied by WVU big man Deniz Kilicli who had the game of his life. If you saw the game, there's no way you can blame McGhee for Kilicli's career-high 19 points. McGhee was in his face nearly all night long and played defense as well as you can play without fouling. Kilicli's baby hook is simply undefendable one-on-one when shot properly.
This blog doesn't make a habit out of calling out Jamie Dixon, but he certainly should have made an adjustment. Playing McGhee straight up on Kilicli, allowing him to catch the ball at will, was a mistake. Pitt should have doubled up on him and made it harder for West Virginia to get him the ball. I understand that Pitt doesn't want to leave players open for wide open jump shots, but I would have preferred that to letting Kilicli go nuts around the basket.
Pitt didn't play great tonight, but you've absolutely got to be impressed with the number of big time shots the team made late in the game. In the end, the cold hard truth was that Pitt had more talent than West Virginia. Even Huggins recognized that:
"We’re just outmanned. I can’t trade them, I could waive them I guess, but I couldn’t get anybody for them. I could sit here and lie to you, but we just got out-manned."
Moving on, winning on the road against Villanova on Saturday night will be no small task. You never want to give games away and the Panthers are fully capable of winning that game without Ashton Gibbs. But I stand by my earlier statement that I'd be happy with a split from these two games.
I'll stick by that.