By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — That thud heard emanating from Oakland was the Pitt men’s basketball team’s eight-game winning streak and undefeated start to the Big East season coming to an abrupt halt.
Pittsburgh fought gamely, but in the end poor free-throw shooting and off games by key players — as well as hot shooting by opposing guard Chris Wright — led to Georgetown’s 74-66 win against the Panthers Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt falls to 15-3 overall, 5-1 in the Conference, while the Hoyas are 14-3 and 5-2. The Panthers, who were ranked ninth this week, also had their 31-straight home winning streak snapped and dropped to 125-11 overall and 51-10 against Big East opponents at the Pete.
“We’re very disappointed in the outcome, because I thought we really could have played better,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “And I really haven’t felt that we’ve defended as well as we need to the past couple of games, and it caught up to us tonight. So, we’ve got to do a better job of that in the future.
“But we got beat by a very good team. They’re well-coached, shot it well, and played good defense. (But) we need to play better to get ready for Seton Hall. … They hit five 3s to start the game, and really we just didn’t defend for the whole part of it. (And) we didn’t make some open shots, so you have to win with your defense. And we just didn’t play well enough to do that.”
While Dixon lamented Pitt’s poor defense several times during his post-game comments and noted that the Panthers did not play well enough defensively against Connecticut or Louisville, either, despite winning the game. However, the most glaring numbers on the stat sheet came from Pitt’s guards.
Sophomore Ashton Gibbs (3-for-16, 2-8), senior Jermaine Dixon (4-11, 1-4) and junior Bradley Wanamaker (4-12, 0-3) combined to make just 11 of 39 shots from the field, including 3-for-15 from 3-point range. And that’s just not going to get it done.
“We missed shots that we normally make,” Jermaine Dixon said. “Like Ash, he was open a couple times at the end, but he wasn’t able to knock them down. But Ashton’s a great shooter, and he’ll bounce back on Sunday. He’s our scorer, so we’re going to keep looking for ways to get him open, and he’s going to knock them down for us.”
Despite trailing by eight on two occasions in the first half, as Georgetown went 5-for-5 from 3-point range, Pitt rallied to tie the score 31-31 at halftime. Gibbs canned two long treys to key the comeback. The score stayed close throughout the second half, as the Panthers kept the Hoyas inside tandem of Greg Monroe and Julian Vaughn out of sync.
But guard Chris Wright remained hot. He made 11 of 17 from the field, including a 3-for-3 performance from long range, and finished with 27 points. Neither Gibbs nor Dixon could handle him.
“I noticed that they were closing out a little bit, so I just wanted to attack the basket and try to create some havoc for them,” Wright said. “(But) they’re a very good defensive team. They do a good job defensively, but we were able to move the ball well and find some open shots.”
Dixon hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt a 56-54 lead with 7:48 remaining, but the Panthers struggled after that. A four-minute scoring drought ended on two Gilbert Brown free throws with 3:48 remaining, but Georgetown regained an eight-point lead on a three-point play by Vaughn to basically put Pitt away.
Brown played well for Pitt, including a strong finish, and ended with 20 points (7-for-8 shooting) and four rebounds. But his career night wasn’t enough. Dixon tallied 14 points, and Wanamaker had 13 rebounds. But key offensive mistakes and occasional lapses on defense sealed Pitt’s fate.
“We just had a little letdown on defense,” Brown said. “We just didn’t play as strong as we usually do on defense. … It wasn’t the height difference, because we’ve beaten teams with a lot of height. It was that we just didn’t come out and play defense like we normally play it, and we have to get back to that.
“Offensively, the basketball was getting swung to me with our motion, and I was able to make plays down the stretch in the second half. It always feels good to score, but games like Louisville I felt I still contributed with hustle plays and rebounds and defense, but we needed more people to pick it up.”
Pitt gets a chance to bounce back against Seton Hall Sunday at 2 p.m. in South Orange, N.J.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, and we’ve still got a lot of games left,” Jermaine Dixon said. “We were looking forward to going undefeated, but everybody’s good in this Conference. You never get a night off. So, one loss really doesn’t mean anything, and we’re going to take it out on Seton Hall.”
After facing the Pirates, Pitt has a home game with St. John’s Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.