No. 18 Pitt pulls away for 79-66 win
Here's the game story from Thursday's Times ...
TAMPA – National ESPN2 audience? Check. A loud, season-high crowd of 6,027 in the Sun Dome? Check. Big game from senior center Kentrell Gransberry? Check.
What USF didn’t have against No. 18 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night was any kind of defense, and the Panthers used a 14-2 run in the second half and steady shooting to pull away to a 79-66 victory.
“Our defense just wasn’t there,” Bulls coach Stan Heath said. “Any time somebody comes into your house and is able to shoot over 50 percent, it’s not a good sign.”
Gransberry matched a career high with 26 points and added 11 rebounds, but the Bulls had little else to help him inside. The Bulls as a team could do little to slow down Pitt, which hit 53 percent of its shots and half their 3-point attempts.
“Don’t be surprised if there’s no baskets up tomorrow and we just spend the whole time defending,” Heath said of his next practice. “It’s not acceptable to give up those kinds of percentages.”
For 30 minutes, USF (10-6, 1-2 in Big East) gave the Panthers (13-2, 1-1) a scare, putting Pitt’s best players on the bench with fouls and keeping the score close. Leading just 59-54 with 10 minutes to play, Pitt’s 14-2 run came at the same time the Bulls lost point guard Chris Howard for the remainder of the game due to cramps.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose team had lost two of three games since losing point guard Levance Fields to injury, said he expected a tough challenge from USF.
“I think as the year goes on, people will see how good a win this was,” said Dixon, who got 22 points from forward Sam Young and 20 from guard Keith Benjamin. “This is a very good team, South Florida, much improved. They’re going to continue to get better.”
Guard Jesus Verdejo played well for USF, scoring 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and freshman Dominique Jones added 13. USF’s other perimeter threats weren’t there – backup guard Solomon Bozeman, who opened the season hitting 13 of his first 19 3-pointers, has since gone 2-for-33 beyond the arc, missing his last 10 attempts. Heath said his most pressing need is rebounding help to complement Gransberry inside, especially at forward, where Orane Chin and Amu Saaka were a combined 1-for-9 and consistently beaten for offensive rebounds.
“They got us on second shots, consistently, throughout the game,” he said. “We need some more guys, some help on the interior. We’ve got to find a way against these physical teams to neutralize the play inside on us.”
The crowd was easily USF’s largest this season, and the Bulls only had two larger crowds in the Sun Dome last season, against Notre Dame and Syracuse.
“I thought we had a much better turnout, and the kids, the fans were into it,” Heath said. “We didn’t quite do our part. We had a chance to maybe cut it to two or one, really get this place at a high-pitched level. We’re making progress there, and I think we’ll see more and more come out with some of the teams coming in here.”
USF has its next two Big East games on the road, going to Providence on Saturday and Seton Hall on Jan. 17. The two opponents are a combined 1-4 in conference play, giving USF a chance to get its first road win in three seasons in the league.