Pitt lost its first game of the season at home in the B1G/ACC challenge tonight against #11 Purdue. The combination of AJ Hammons' 24 point, 12 rebound effort and Ryan Cline's three point shooting were too much for Pitt to overcome.
Similar to Pitt football's loses, Pitt dug themselves a huge hole at the beginning of the game getting down as much as 24-7 at one point. Purdue was making everything, and absolutely mauling Pitt on defense.
Oddly enough, it was senior transfer Rafael Maia who seemed to spark a comeback. He had two steals and a block that seemed to stop the bleeding long enough for Pitt to score. Jamie Dixon switched to a little bit of 3/4 court press combined with zone that forced Purdue's bigs out of the middle, and it was definitely successful. Pitt closed the gap to only 3 by half and headed into the locker room with all of the momentum.
Into the second half, Pitt slowly chipped away and eventually did take the lead very briefly. Right around then, Purdue's Hammons and Ryan Cline took over. Hammons, who had only scored a modest 7 points in the first half, simply took over. Pitt junior Mike Young described Hammons being able to get clean catches much closer to the basket, and being able to hit those shots without even having to dribble. Cline was scoreless in the first half, but made a few very big three pointers in a row that seemed to shift the momentum back over to Purdue. Pitt was able to cut into the lead a few times, but three bad turnovers and some fouls kept them from coming back again at the end of the game.
Dixon described Purdue as "good as anybody in the country, there's no question about it". He pointed to Pitt's ability to hit open shots mentioning Cameron Johnson and Chris Jones not hitting them specifically as a big reason Pitt let Purdue slip away. Dixon feels like Pitt has been relying on making shots in past games, and it caught up to them tonight when they weren't able to hit them. Dixon felt they didn't rebound well enough, nor defend well enough to win the game. Purdue's Matt Painter mentioned they made some adjustments to the zone to get their bigs closer to the basket. He also talked about how he doesn't want to play too many guys, because it doesn't allow them to get into the flow of the game. Purdue played 9 players tonight, while Pitt played 12.
Personally, I don't take much out of this game for Pitt. Purdue was a pretty good team, and despite letting Pitt back into the game, they knew how to shut the door at the end like a good team should. They were without their second leading scorer, and were never down less than 1.
James Robinson had a pretty great night, and when he's aggressive, he plays really well.He had an uncharacteristically high 4 turnovers, which broke his streak of 19 straight assists coming into tonight. James Robinson has started 93 consecutive games, and his 107 starts are the most among active ACC players. Robinson has gotten a lot of flak from fans, but nights like tonight should earn him some praise.
Mike Young had a pretty good night. There were a couple close baskets he missed, but overall, he turned in a pretty solid performance. Artis struggled a bit to get his shot going, finishing with a 30% field goal percentage.
Overall, I'm not terribly worried by the result of this game. As I said, Purdue is a pretty good team, and Pitt hung with them until the last 5 or 6 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, we won't know how good Pitt is for close to a month as they don't play another ranked team until they face Syracuse on the 30th. Next up is a pretty decent Duquesne team on Friday night at the City Game.
As a side note, attendance was pretty poor by general fans tonight. I'm not sure if they don't realize it's basketball season yet or what, but there were a good amount of empty seats. The Oakland Zoo was fantastic, and were loud the entire game, and pretty much deafening when Pitt was making its comeback. Hopefully they can bring that energy the rest of the season.