The Pittsburgh Panthers (4-0) overcame some early foul trouble and a chippy first half on their way to a 97-71 win over the Central Arkansas Bears (2-2) on Thursday night.
Xavier Johnson took a seat just over 3 minutes into the game with 2 fouls. Shortly after, Pitt found themselves trailing 17-8 thanks to the hot shooting of Thatch Unruh. The senior guard connected on his first four shots, which included two early three-pointers.
Once again, Jared Wilson-Frame injected life into the Panthers offense off the bench, and also helped calm the storm. In the span of 3 minutes Wilson-Frame drilled two shots from long distance, the second of which tied the game at 19. It was the spark that Pitt needed; they put their foot on the gas from there and never looked back.
They forced Central Arkansas into 14 first half turnovers, which resulted in 21 points. The Panthers led the Bears 48-37 at halftime with Wilson-Frame leading the way with 11 points on 4-8 from the floor.
Au’Diese Toney on the teams mindset and whether or not they knew they could attack and draw fouls: “If you attack, they’re going to call fouls.”
Pitt continued to put the pressure on the UCA defense in the second half; they came out of the half attacking the basket once again. Until a jump shot by Malik Ellison at the 14:07 mark, the Panthers were able to maintain a double-digit lead with just layups and free throws. Central Arkansas kept pace early in the second half, once getting within 10 points, but never really threatened.
A layup by Ellison with 6:57 remaining in the game pushed Pitt’s lead to 21 and effectually ended the game. I’d stop short of saying the Panthers had to battle back into the game, but they did have to regain their composure early and eventually just overwhelmed the Bears with their speed and athleticism. Ultimately, they rolled to an easy victory.
Wilson-Framed paced Pitt with 20 points on an efficient 8-13 from the floor, including 4-8 from three-point distance. This was his third game in a row in which he reached the 20-point mark. After the game, he was asked about his leadership role on the team and how he’s had so much individual success to start the season: “We just make sure we bring it everyday, it’s a competition in practice.”
Terrell Brown led the team with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. Johnson reached double-digits in scoring (12) for the 4th straight game.
Unruh led UCA with 15 points on 5-9 shooting, but didn’t score in the second half. Central Arkansas head coach Russ Pennell on the Panthers: “I think they’re much improved, and they are going to have a nice year.”
Granted, it’s non-conference play, but Pitt has found a nice grove and it certainly seems like a team that isn’t content, that enjoys practicing (more rare than you might think), and is looking forward to their next game. Head coach Jeff Capel summed it up best in the post-game:
“It was a nice win, we need to move past this immediately, and start our preparation for Saturday afternoon.” His response when asked what his team will be like given the short turnaround: “We’ll be ready.”
The Panthers will play the North Alabama Lions (1-2) on Saturday afternoon at noon.