WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pitt never went home after their loss to Rutgers in New Jersey on Saturday night, instead opting to head directly to DC, a region five players spent their high school careers.
The 67-62 loss, which required a second half rally form 14 points down just to make the score respectable, dropped the Panthers to 0-2 in the Big East, a bad omen given their lack of non-conference schedule strength and the 0-7 start Pitt had to league play a season ago.
And since allowing a roster full of college kids to have a couple days worth of down time with their high school buddies isn’t exactly the best way to rejuvenate focus for one of the season’s most important games, you can understand why Jamie Dixon and his staff went back and forth on whether or not to stay in DC.
“We were there for so long,” Dixon said after Pitt’s 73-45 mollywhopping of Georgetown, the worst home loss the Hoyas have suffered since the 1971-72 season. “Yesterday, I wasn’t feeling good about the decision. Today? I’m feeling pretty good.”
And he should be.
All of the Panthers should be.
Because they played their best basketball of the year in the season’s most important game to date.
Pitt couldn’t afford another loss to kick off their Big East schedule, not when their best wins prior to the start of league play were Lehigh and Detroit; not when their Big East opener involved blowing a lead at home to Cincinnati, which happens to be the only game that the Bearcats have won in their last four; not when they were coming off of an embarrassing loss to a Rutgers team that is improving but still a long way relevant; not when the sting of a 5-13 Big East season and a trip to the CBI was still fresh in the minds of the players in the Pitt program.
“We let the first one, two games get away from us. Two teams that we think we should have beaten,” senior point guard Tray Woodall said after the game. “But there’s no panic. We just know that we had to come out and get this win. This road trip, two games, we wanted to make sure we go home with at least one win.”
The difference for the Panthers, according to Woodall, came on the defensive end of the floor, where they “wanted to come out and be the aggressor.” Cut down open looks on the perimeter, pressure ball-handlers in the half court and attack the defensive glass. Pitt did just that, as Georgetown — an admittedly awful offensive team right now — never got into anything close to a rhythm on that end of the floor.
“I think our guys are recognizing what we’ve been trying to get across to them defensively,” Dixon said.
But the key to the game had much more to do with Georgetown’s defense than Pitt’s, as the Panthers absolutely shredded what had been one of the stingiest groups in the country coming into the game. Pitt was able to get penetration from Woodall and James Robinson, they knocked down their open threes and they got to the offensive glass. While their total number of points may not be all that impressive, it is when you consider that they put up 73 points in 59 possessions — or 1.237 PPP — against a team that, even with Tuesday’s hideous performance factored in, is allowing just 0.871 PPP on the season.
Pitt thoroughly humiliated a good Georgetown team on the road in a game that they really needed to win.
That’s what good teams do. And that’s how good teams handle adversity.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Dixon said, “and how we responded to a disappointing start.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.