Score: Pitt 69, UConn 61
Star(s):Pitt: Lamar Patterson 14 Pts, 5 Ast. Tray Woodall 16 Pts, 6 Ast. UConn: Ryan Boatright 20 Pts, 6 Ast. Omar Calhoun 14 Pts, 5 Reb.
Story: The Pitt men’s basketball team survived a second-half comeback attempt from Connecticut on Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center to pick up its first home conference victory of the season.
The Panthers (15-4, 3-3 Big East) watched a 13-point halftime lead disappear after a strong fight back from the Huskies (12-5, 2-3 Big East), but Pitt regained its composure to improve its Big East record to 3-3 with the 69-61 triumph of UConn.
For the second straight contest, the Panthers turned a tie game into a decisive victory in the last five minutes. Pitt won 58-43 at Villanova on Wednesday night by scoring the last 15 points of that game.
With a packed Petersen Events Center anxious for what some considered a must-win game for the home team, the Oakland Zoo lightened the mood by chanting “Hooked on Phonics” at the Huskies moments before tipoff, reminding the visitors of their academics-related postseason ban.
The teams traded buckets in the opening minutes, then the Panthers made the first spurt of the game and took a 19-11 lead after junior guard Trey Zeigler scored with a putback.
Pitt continued to dictate play, stretching its lead to 35-22 at the break thanks to a late 3-pointer by freshman point guard James Robinson and a layup by senior center Dante Taylor in the half’s final minute.
But whatever UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said in the intermission worked.
The Huskies chipped away at the Pitt lead for the entire second half and finally tied the game at 55 with 4:38 remaining.
Senior point guard Tray Woodall then settled the troops with a clutch 3-pointer, and the Panthers never relinquished the lead again with some timely shooting by Robinson and Taylor making the difference.
Woodall, who finished with a team-high 16 points, said Pitt finished off the game because of its resiliency and the noisy home crowd.
“That’s the Big East. It’s a tough league and we know UConn is a tough team,” Woodall said. “The fans stuck behind us, and there was a great atmosphere out there. We fed off of them and we stuck with it.”
Meanwhile, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon pointed to the small things – rebounding, passing and defense – when asked about his team’s victory.
“We did a great job as far as rebounding. We took care of the ball. I thought we moved the ball well in the first half and, again, the defense was very good,” Dixon said.
With Dixon’s Panthers seeming to be steadily improving, Pitt will look to pick up its third consecutive victory on Tuesday night at Providence.