PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Panthers opened their season with a 23-point victory over Niagara on Nov.14, but had not won a home nonconference game by more than nine in four home games since.
But Tuesday, the Panthers used a 15-0 run in the middle of the first half, as well as a 16-2 run in the second, to take control of their contest against the Holy Cross Crusaders and coasted to a 58-39 victory.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do in non-conference games,” Pitt forward Jamel Artis said. “Come out, play hard, execute on offense and defense as well.”
After a four-point overtime win against Oakland Saturday, head coach Jamie Dixon set a pair of goals for his team Tuesday: outrebound the opposition by at least 15 and hold them to 35 percent shooting or less.
Pitt surpassed each of them in stride, outrebounding Holy Cross by 20 (45-25) and limiting the Crusaders to 30 percent (15-of-50) shooting.
“We did what we wanted to do,” Dixon said. “That was our emphasis these last couple days, the rebounding as well.”
The Panthers pulled down 15 offensive rebounds alone and dominated the glass throughout, which Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown expected entering the game knowing Pitt’s “tough, hard-nosed” style of play.
“They were just a little bit too big,” Brown said, “a little bit too strong.”
Artis and Michael Young led Pitt (9-3) with 13 points apiece while Artis pulled in a game-high nine rebounds.
Malcolm Miller led Holy Cross (5-5) with 11 points.
Pitt scored the game’s first three baskets, aided by a pair of jumpers from Cameron Wright, before Malachi Alexander scored Holy Cross’ first five points. The teams traded baskets as Pitt led 10-9 with less than 12 minutes to play.
The Panthers then held the Crusaders scoreless for the next seven minutes as Joseph Uchebo scored six points and Young added five to spark Pitt’s run. Brown called Uchebo’s baskets from the post in particular “demoralizing” to his team.
“We had some quality shots that just didn’t fall,” Brown said. “They hurt us on the glass a couple times.”
Anthony Thompson broke the Crusaders’ scoreless skid with five minutes to play on a slashing drive to the basket that ended in a reverse layup.
Dixon has wanted to see his team embark on more runs during games, which he says start with getting defensive stops and transition opportunities.
“We’d like to get some more transition opportunities,” Dixon said. “I thought we had the opportunities but didn’t do a good job of finishing them.”
Pitt’s run boosted the Panthers to a 27-14 halftime lead. The Crusaders finished the first half shooting 26 percent, even though Brown said he thought his team quality shot attempts.
“But they did force us into some bad shots as well,” Brown said. “Some of the times, because of their length and athleticism and their size, open looks turned into contested ones.”
After trailing by 13 at half, the Crusaders cut their deficit to 10 points at 29-19 but got no closer.
Pitt used a 16-2 run to put the game away, and led by as much as 22 points with four minutes left in the game.
“We didn’t give them opportunities to score the basketball,” Artis said. “We kept pushing, we kept going down their throat and we kept going up.”
Holy Cross: The Crusaders 39 points were their lowest this season. Their previous low was 48 points scored in losses to Canisius and Syracuse.
Pittsburgh: The 14 points scored by Holy Cross in the first half was the fifth-lowest total ever allowed by the Panthers in a single half.