Pitt-fall: No. 4 Panthers pull away from Bulls
TAMPA -- For a half, it seemed like Wednesday night could have been the one where USF played well enough long enough to get the big upset that has slipped away from the Bulls late in games all season.
But as soon as the second half started, No. 4 Pittsburgh took care of any drama like that. The Panthers came out of halftime on a 19-5 run, a six-minute blitz that was all the separation they needed in a 66-50 win before an announced crowd of 4,640 in the Sun Dome.
"I think we had a good game plan, came out and did the things we wanted to do to give ourselves a chance for 20 minutes," coach Stan Heath said. "We just didn't sustain it."
Bulls senior center Jarrid Famous, playing in his final home game, had a double-double by halftime with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but he and the rest of the Bulls (9-21, 3-14 in Big East) went quiet after halftime. Down 27-24 at the break, Pittsburgh's post players led the initial charge, and the Panthers hit 11 of their first 12 shots in the second half. Guard Ashton Gibbs hit three 3-pointers in a span of three minutes, putting Pittsburgh (26-4, 14-3) up 49-34 and seemingly out of reach.
"We just came up on the other end of the stick tonight," Famous said. "They came out (of halftime) a different team. They came out more aggressive. I think that bothered us, because we didn't come out and play the same way in the second half."
After outrebounding the Big East's best rebounding team in the first half, USF disappeared on the boards, with just four rebounds in the first 12 minutes of the second half. The Bulls didn't hit their first 3-pointer until 7:36 was left in the game.
And for a Bulls team that had at least created a reputation of staying with elite teams until the closing minutes, it was a disappointing finish to see the game out of hand for the final 10 minutes.
Pittsburgh, which can clinch the Big East regular-season title with a win Saturday against Villanova, gave coach Jamie Dixon his 214th career win, the most ever for an NCAA coach in his eighth season. Nasir Robinson led the Panthers with 18 points, while Augustus Gilchrist and Famous led USF with 15 points.
It's likely the Bulls' last game in the Sun Dome as they've known it -- pending university and state approval later this month, USF has a $35-million renovation planned in the off-season and is seeking a title sponsor to put a new name on the upgraded arena. The team's new 51,000-foot practice facility on the south side of the Sun Dome should also be completed by June. The Bulls close the regular season Saturday at No. 15 St. John's, then open play in the Big East tournament on Tuesday in New York.