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Pitt edges Towson 63-59 to improve to .500 on the season

Panthers freshman Nate Santos led the way with 14 points and four made threes

NCAA Basketball: Towson at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt faced Towson at the Petersen Events Center on Friday night with a chance to improve on its 1-2 record, and although the Panthers left room for doubt that they were the better team on the court, they won ugly and topped the Tigers 63-59 to improve to .500.

In what’s become a theme this season, the Panthers struggled early against the Tigers, kicking the game off with two giveaways, two missed free throws and some poor rebounding. As a result, the visitors were able to build up an early 10-5 lead, with Towson guard Nicolas Timberlake leading the way with five points. It would take the Panthers five minutes and 12 seconds to pull even with Towson, with Pitt forward William Jeffress tying the game at 10-10 on two made free throws. And it would take Pitt 10 minutes and 52 seconds to take its first lead of the game, with Pitt forward Dan Oladapo sinking a layup to make it 15-14.

Pitt would eventually pull out to a 17-15 lead, but less than 30 seconds later, Pitt guard Femi Odukale would limp off the court after twisting his ankle while reeling in a rebound. He would head to the locker room and check back into the game late in the half. A short time after his injury, amid a slew of missed layups and off-target shots, Pitt would once again concede the lead to Towson, allowing Timberlake to bank in a two-point shot to put his team up 19-18 with five minutes and 42 seconds left.

Towson would hold on tight to its lead, and by halftime, Pitt would trail 29-26, with the lone positive for the Panthers being the emergence of Pitt guard Nate Santos as a solid perimeter option. At the halftime break, Santos would have a career-high nine points after sinking three of his five long-range shots. That would make the freshman Pitt’s top scorer, but the game-high total of 13 belonged to Towson guard Cam Holden, who was even more impressive, as he made all of his threes and sunk five of six field goals in the first half.

Pitt would kick off the second half with another turnover, as Pitt forward John Hugley tried to kick the ball out to Santos but instead found Towson guard Terry Nolan Jr. streaking in the opposite direction. Nolan would convert the turnover into points with a layup, giving the Tigers an early 31-26 lead over the Panthers. Missed free throws would continue to plague Pitt, with the team at 7-for-12 from the charity stripe early in the second half. And as Pitt struggled to take advantage of gimmes, Towson improved its lead to 37-30 with a few made jumpers and a free throw.

The first sign of life for the Panthers in the second half came courtesy of Santos, who knocked down another three-pointer to make it 37-33. With the made shot, Santos improved his point total to a team-high 12 and his shooting percentage to 66.6 percent. The Panthers would show some fight after that, with Pitt forward Dan Oladapo finishing a layup through a foul to narrow Towson’s lead to two, and Pitt guard Jamarius Burton hitting a mid-range jumper to tie the game at 39-39. Eight minutes into the second half, the Panthers would regain the lead, with Pitt forward Noah Collier making a layup to make it 41-39.

Towson would tie it up at 41-41 on a made layup through contact by Holden, and with a made free throw from Holden a few seconds later, followed by a made layup by Jeffress, Towson and Pitt would exchange blows and play hot potato with the lead for the next five minutes. During that span, Santos would go cold from beyond the arc, but Oladapo would join him in double digits, getting his point total up to 11 with a few free throws.

The deadlock between the two sides would persist late into the second half, with the game tied at 51-51 with four minutes and three seconds left to play. About two minutes later, Odukale, who had yet to score all night, broke his silence with a go-ahead three to make it 58-55. With time winding down, Collier would play a key role in protecting Pitt’s fledgling lead, as he swatted a shot by Nolan and then came up with a rebound to regain possession for Pitt. A made free throw by Odukale would make it a two-possession game, but with three misses on four tries, he left the door open for a Tigers comeback. However, Santos and Burton would get to the line late and slam the door shut with four made free throws to make it 63-59, and that would go down as the final score.

With the win, Pitt improved to 2-2 on the season and dropped Towson to the same record. Santos would finish as Pitt’s top scorer, with 14 points on the night, while Oladapo and Burton both finished with 11. Hugley and Odukale, who figure to be Pitt’s top contributors this season, combined for just 11 points on the night, with Hugley riding the bench for the majority of the second half and Odukale struggling offensively. The two will try to get back on track in five days, when Pitt faces Vanderbilt at the Petersen Events Center.