NEW YORK---Tuesday night was one of firsts for the Panthers.
It was the first time the Panthers were out-rebounded by an opponent in 2013. It was the first time Pitt scored less than 75 points in an entire game.
Tuesday night, at their “home away from home” Madison Square Garden, the Panthers lost their first game of 2013 to the Cincinnati Bearcats. In head coach Jamie Dixon’s eyes, the Bearcats beat Pitt at the Panthers own game.
“They were more physical and it was evident from the rebounds to the fouls,” Dixon said. “They were more aggressive and physical.”
The Bearcats made it a point to be physical with Pitt, based on their wealth of past experience with the Panthers. Justin Jackson gave Pitt problems in the post early, and led Cincinnati with 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
“The last three or four games we were able to beat Pitt was because we out-rebounded them,” Jackson said. “That is what our main focus was today.’
Cincinnati’s physicality manifested itself in 29 free throws attempts for Pitt, while the Bearcats attempted just three. But Pitt didn’t capitalize on what freshman forward Michael Young calls “free money”, and made just 19-of-29 free throws.
The 10 pieces of “free money” made a big difference in the game’s final result. That was no more apparent than when senior Lamar Patterson missed not one, but two free throws with less than a minute to play and Pitt clinging to a one-point lead.
“I took that under the chin for the team,” Patterson said. “That was definitely on me.”
But redshirt junior guard Cam Wright was quick to defend the senior.
“As a team you do not lose the game on one possession or two free throws,” Wright said. “Everything adds up.”
Wright is right.
Cincinnati out-rebounded Pitt 35-27, and held the Panthers without a field from the 14:50 mark in the second half to when Wright made a layup with 1:00 to play. Consecutive empty possessions and poor rebounding led to Pitt’s first loss of the year.
“I do not know why we would have gotten out-rebounded, no matter who we played,” Dixon said. “We just didn’t get it done tonight.”
Like last season, the Panthers find themselves at a point of disharmony after a loss to Cincinnati in December. Pitt was out-rebounded in the same fashion Dec. 31, 2012, and loss its Big East opener.
For as encouraging as it was for Pitt to win 10 straight out of the gates, the Panthers wilted in the face of their first true challenge this season. Pitt converted only 11 field goals, the second-lowest single-game total in program history, and posted its lowest point total since the Panthers mustered just 42 points against Notre Dame Feb. 18.
“We just didn’t play well,” Dixon said. “Didn’t rebound well, and our offense was not what it needed to be.”
Pitt’s next game comes against Cal Poly Saturday, when Wright hopes the Panthers will re-establish their identity.
“Today we were not the University of Pittsburgh playing,” Wright said. “Next game we will bounce back.”