New Castle News


December 21, 2011

College Basketball: Pittsburgh crushes St. Francis

PITTSBURGH — A scoreboard malfunction shortly after the tipoff of No. 15 Pittsburgh's game against St. Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday night forced the public address announcer to call out an update following every basket.

It took awhile for him to get around to saying "Red Flash," further proof the Panthers are starting to round into form.

J.J. Moore scored 15 points, Dante Taylor added 14 points and eight rebounds as Pitt rolled to an easy 71-47 victory.

"We wanted to come out and play hard from the jump," Taylor said. "It definitely shows how far we came as far as defense, not taking any plays off throughout the game, just picking it up and trying to get easy baskets."

There were plenty to be had for the Panthers (11-1), who have won nine straight. Pitt held St. Francis (3-8) to 35 percent shooting and dominated the glass.

The Panthers came in leading the nation in rebounding margin — grabbing 12 more a game than the opponent — a number sure to go up after Pitt outrebounded the Red Flash 42-21.

"It's something we've done year after year and it's our strength and we continue to play to it," coach Jamie Dixon said.

Five Pitt players finished with at least five rebounds. Then again, there were plenty of St. Francis misses to chase down, particularly early.

The Red Flash missed their first seven shots and never really threatened to beat the Panthers for the first time in 29 tries.

"The physicality Pitt throws at you on the glass, you can't simulate it," St. Francis coach Don Friday said.

Anthony Ervin had 13 points and Stephon Whyatt added 10 for St. Francis, which needed a full 10 minutes to get going.

The Red Flash had a similar problem in a 66-61 victory over American on Dec. 10, falling behind 14-0 before rallying.

Pitt, however, proved to be a much different challenge. Traditionally one of the most hard-nosed teams in the country, it has taken awhile for this group to settle in.

Though the Panthers are off to their typical hot start — this is the 11th time in the last 12 seasons they have started at least 11-1 — they haven't always played with their typical tenacity.

Long Beach State stunned the Panthers in an 86-76 upset on Nov. 16, running right by Pitt in a way few teams have during Dixon's tenure.

Dixon preached patience as his team of youngsters matured. The Panthers have just three healthy upperclassmen and watched highly touted freshman center Khem Birch announce he was leaving the program last week.

Turns out, Birch might not be needed given the way Taylor, Moore and Lamar Patterson are playing. The trio combined for 40 points on 17-of-28 shooting, most of the baskets coming on dunks, layups or tip-ins.

Pitt senior point guard Ashton Gibbs took his time probing the St. Francis defense before finding a way to get the ball inside. Once the Panthers did, they never stopped.

Pitt outscored St. Francis 44-16 in the paint, a number courtesy of 18 offensive rebounds, three less than St. Francis managed in all during the entire game.

"They're terrific," Friday said. "What we tried to masquerade in rebounding and what the reality was out there on the floor for the past 40 minutes, it wasn't even in the same universe."

A tip-in by Taylor gave the Panthers a 13-0 lead before Scott Eatherton — who entered the game making 77 percent of his shots — hit a jumper to get St. Francis on the board more than 6 minutes into the game.

It did little to stop the deluge.

Taylor came up with a strip at halfcourt, and the 6-foot-9 forward raced down for a layup. Talib Zanna followed with a dunk and a 15-footer, Gibbs made a layup before Patterson came up with a steal and a dunk to make it 27-4.

Only then did St. Francis seem to calm down, but failed to make any sort of serious run at the Panthers, who are starting to round into form with the start of Big East play a week away.

The only hiccup came courtesy of Moore, who blew a wide-open one-handed dunk on a fast break — missing the basket entirely. He atoned later in the half, driving the baseline and throwing one down over Eatherton just before the halftime buzzer.

The slam and ensuing free throw gave Pitt a 39-21 lead and allowed coach Jamie Dixon to tinker with his lineup as the defending Big East regular season champions remained perfect in December.

The road figures to get significantly tougher in a week when the Panthers open conference play against Notre Dame. These days, they're looking up to the challenge in what could be a wide-open race.


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