GREENSBORO, NC- The soundtrack is still playing for the Pittsburgh Panthers, so they’ll keep dancing. Pitt moved on to the round of 32 today with an upset over 6-seed Iowa State, winning 59-41 in a game highlighted by awful shooting on both sides, but an incredible defensive effort from the Panthers. Pitt was led in scoring on the night by Nelly Cummings who finished with 13 points, also adding 3 assists and 2 steals. The game this afternoon was the beauty of March Madness on full display, and it is sure phenomenal to have the Panthers back in the best tournament in sports.
FIRST HALF RECAP:
The first half got off to a tense start, thanks in part to a level of aggressiveness on the defensive end from Iowa State that Pitt hadn’t seen in games prior. Pitt matched them step for step, with an especially stellar start from Guillermo Diaz Graham, starting in his second straight game. Diaz Graham opened the contest with a three from the top of the arc, adding two more to be responsible for half of Pitt’s first ten.
Pitt held serve on the defensive end to begin the contest, holding Iowa State without a field goal through their first 11 shots, lasting a full ten minutes. While Iowa State couldn’t make anything, Pitt couldn’t miss to begin the contest. Selfless passing was key to breaking down T.J. Otzleburger’s defensive unit and Pitt did exactly that, assisting on each of the first five field goals.
Held them without a bucket for 10 minutes. We'll take that— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) March 17, 2023
Pitt 22 - ISU 6 (8:00 1st) pic.twitter.com/yxF2MvdPcS
It was a dream start, with Pitt up as much as 17 in the first ten minutes. Iowa State continued to try and run an offense through cuts to the basket, but anything down low was contested by Diaz Graham and Blake Hinson, with Diaz Graham registering three blocks.
G doing it all so far.— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) March 17, 2023
7⃣ points, 5⃣ rebounds, 3⃣ blocks pic.twitter.com/ru4MaCKXfm
Following a game against Mississippi State in which the Panthers were bullied down low, it was a completely different story this time out. Pitt did a better job of managing the boards, with each team recording 18 rebounds in the first half. Eight of Iowa State’s boards were on the offensive glass, a big reason for their late push in the half that led to a once-blowout becoming a competitive game.
Pitt did a phenomenal job of limiting any work off the dribble, but once Iowa State gathered themselves and stood up from the initial round of punches Pitt had thrown at them, the contest tightened up. Down 4-22, Iowa State reeled off a 17-4 run that gave them the momentum as the half neared close, turning an ecstatic Pitt fanbase into one apprehensively awaiting the halftime buzzer.
Guillermo Diaz Graham was the highlight of Pitt’s first half, finishing the first 20 minutes with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and those aforementioned 3 blocks. Diaz Graham’s +13 +/- was the highest of anyone on the court, further impressive when you consider he only played 11 minutes.
SECOND HALF RECAP:
The same defensive intensity that drove the Panther’s successes in the first half returned with force early in the second, holding Iowa State to 1-10 on their first ten attempts from the field to begin the frame. Pitt’s shooting struggles continued as well, making only two out of their first ten shots.
It was ugly offensive set after ugly offensive set for both teams, with both teams registering scoring droughts of multiple minutes in length. Pitt struggled with turnovers, ending the game with more TOs than field goals by a margin of 15-14, a product of Iowa State tightening up their defensive assignments after halftime adjustments.
Pitt made a run to push the game out of reach with about 7:00 left in the contest, generating quick energy of a Guillermo Diaz Graham dunk off a beautiful assist from his brother.
From there a quick transition layup from Nelly Cummings further established the Panther lead. The Pitt defense continued to dominate in a way we hadn’t seen at any point this season, holding Iowa State without a field goal for nearly eight straight minutes in the second half while they iced their victory.
For the last five minutes of the game, it was barely a contest, both teams looking like they had already realized the contest was decided and were just playing basketball for the sake of playing basketball.
In the end, Pitt did enough to make this a dominant win, a win that was at odds with what we know from the 2022-23 Pitt Panthers. A team highlighted by its ability to score handicapped by moderate defensive lapses instead turned an awful shooting day into a dominant victory over a very well-regarded opponent on the back of a defensive performance that registers as one of the best of the tournament so far, by any team. Pitt held Iowa State to 23% shooting and 9.5% from three-point range, an absolutely remarkable showing.
Good teams win when they’re hot, great teams find ways to win even when they aren’t. Pitt moves on to the round of 32 to face Xavier this Sunday. At this point, any run deep into the tournament seems like a real possibility.