PITTSBURGH — Pitt took on Fairleigh Dickinson Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center looking to return to .500. Despite some first half struggles, Pitt pulled away in the second half and won, 83-61.
The Panthers’ (3-3) victory is just the second over the Knights (3-4) since they met for the first time in 2008. The victory also improves the Panthers’ record against NEC opponents to 37-2 all-time. The win also puts Pitt back up to a .500 record, with a win on Sunday against the Alabama State Hornets ending a three-game losing streak.
Fairleigh Dickinson led, 7-5, at the first media timeout, thanks to a pull up jumper from senior guard Heru Bligen, a mid-range jumper from graduate guard Demetre Roberts and a 3-pointer from junior forward Sean Moore.
Pitt managed to regain the lead with 3-pointers from graduate guards in Nelly Cummings and Jamarius Burton as well as junior forward Blake Hinson as a part of an 11-4 run.
The Panthers continued to shoot 3-pointers, but did not fare so well the rest of the period. They started out 5-for-7 and finished an abysmal 0-for-9.
Pitt also struggled against Fairleigh Dickinson’s press. Fairleigh Dickinson would have one player pressure and then use another to try and trap the Pitt ball handler. Pitt failed many times in the first half to deal with this trap and turned the ball over seven times, as no other player decided to help the player trapped.
Junior forward John Hugley led the Panthers with nine points on 3-for-5 shooting and two made free throws. Burton returned from a knee injury that forced him to miss the Alabama State game on Sunday and scored eight first half points.
Both teams shot around the same in the first half, as the Knights shot 11-for-33 from the field and the Panthers shot 11-for-32. The Knights poor 3-point shooting, 2-for-14, and the Panthers’ solid foul shooting, 8-for-10, created a 35-28 lead for the home team.
Fairleigh Dickinson managed to cut the Pitt lead to five points early in the second half, but Pitt countered that with a 17-3 run over the next five minutes and 30 seconds. First-year forward Jorge Diaz-Graham scored six points off the bench for Pitt on the scoring run.
The Panthers chose to switch the offensive strategy in the second half. Instead of hoping for 3-pointers to fall, the Panthers drove at the rim and created opportunities for others.
This allowed a more spread out offensive production and a far more effective shooting percentage, 76.9% on 20-for-26 shooting. The Panthers only shot nine times from deep in the second half, compared to 16 in the first half and shot a perfect 17-for-17 from inside.
Burton played a good second half to improve his total points to 18, the highest for Pitt in the game. He continues to prove himself as a veteran ball handler and an adequate scorer from mid-range and at the rim for Pitt. Burton also tied with Cummings for a team-high four assists.
Hugley struggled to stay in the game as he picked up a class A technical foul early on in the second half and then got his fourth foul with eight minutes left. He still played a solid game, scoring 17 points, grabbing five rebounds and making a team-high two blocks.
Diaz-Graham contributed off the bench with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field and got five rebounds in the win. Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande didn’t do much on offense, but he used his length and size to grab eight rebounds to lead the Panthers.
Pitt finishes their three-game home stand with a game against William & Mary Friday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m.