Once again, Jamie Dixon’s No. 4 Pitt Panther team has proven that their sum is better than their parts.
Heading into their most important week of the season to date, the Panthers were forced to play without their all-conference guard Ashton Gibbs. He sprained his mcl in Pitt’s win over Cincinnati on Saturday and will be out for 10-14 days, meaning he will also miss next Saturday’s trip to Villanova.
It didn’t matter on Monday night.
The Panthers dominated West Virginia inside, scoring 42 points in the paint and grabbing 18 offensive rebounds (for a 47.3% offensive rebounding percentage) en route to a 71-66 win in the Backyard Brawl. Pitt may have been without their primary perimeter shooting threat, but it didn’t change the Panther’s game plan. Pitt still swung the ball well offensively. Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall, and Gilbert Brown still attacked close outs and penetrated into the paint. And if there was a missed shot, Pitt’s bigs — specifically Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson — were there to clean up the mess.
“We didn’t have to have anyone step up,” Dixon said after the game. “We just had to play the way we play, do the things we do and execute. No one really had to do anything different, or shoot more 3’s, or become a different player overnight. They just had to do what we do and play like we play when he is not in the game or in practice.”
That is what makes Pitt basketball, Pitt basketball. They don’t change what they want to do based on their opponent or, in this case, the personnel they have available. They simply play their game. There aren’t many teams that can lose their most important offensive weapon and still win on the road in a rivalry game against a team that is tied for second in the conference. Pitt did. As Jay Bilas made reference too on tonight’s telecast, this was a program win.
And don’t sleep on Gibbs. He is a big piece of what they do. He’s really the only player on Pitt’s roster that can create his own shot consistently. He doesn’t do it in the typical sense — beating a defender one-on-one. Gibbs may be the best player in the country at coming off of a screen. With brick walls like McGhee, Robinson, and Dante Taylor to run off of, it is not difficult for Gibbs to get himself a good look at the rim.
In the process, Pitt exposed the Mountaineers.
Coming in, West Virginia was the fifth best team in the country on the offensive glass. But they were also 292nd in the country on the defensive glass. As athletic as this team is, as physical as they were in the paint last year, and as well as Deniz Kilicli played tonight, Bob Huggins’ team was, for lack of a better word, punked in the paint.
“They outmanned us is what happened,” Huggins said. “They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it. They just outmanned us.”
Pitt, as Huggins put it, outmanned West Virginia on the road despite being down a man themselves.
That should give you a sign of the kind of program that Jamie Dixon is running at Pitt.
And it should also give you a sign of just how good his team is this season.
Only the best of the best can survive the loss of a key player. Pitt proved they belong in that category tonight.