Wagner 59, No. 15 Pittsburgh 54

When Danny Hurley took over at Wagner a year ago, he pledged to

turn the woeful Seahawks around with a mixture of toughness and

grit, qualities that are synonymous with the family name.

Consider his rebuilding project well ahead of schedule.

Latif Rivers scored all 18 of his points in the second half –

including six free throws in the final minute – to lead the

Seahawks to a stunning 59-54 victory over No. 15 Pittsburgh on

Friday night.

”We’ve got good players, we practice really hard and I think

our guys feel like they deserve wins like this and moments like

this,” Hurley said.

Wagner, which went 5-26 the season before Hurley arrived,

certainly played like it.

Controlling the tempo and making Pitt work hard at both ends of

the court, the Seahawks (8-3) beat a ranked opponent for the first

time since knocking off then-No. 15 Alabama on Nov. 24, 1978.

Pitt (11-2) saw its nine-game winning streak snapped in emphatic

fashion. Ashton Gibbs scored 14 points for the Panthers, but Pitt

shot 40 percent from the field and turned it over 18 times while

losing to a Northeastern Conference opponent for the first time

ever.

”It’s very big for us,” Wagner guard Kenneth Ortiz said. ”You

know the Big East is one of the biggest conferences. Us being a

mid-major, this is something big. Everyone wants to be top-ranked.

We wanted to get it, we got our chance and we made the best of

it.”

The Panthers came in 70-0 all-time against NEC foes, but never

led over the game’s final 33 minutes.

”It’s definitely not the way we want to play,” Pitt coach

Jamie Dixon said. ”We definitely took a step backwards.”

Pitt has been nearly unbeatable in nonconference games since the

Petersen Events Center opened in 2002. The Panthers had lost just

one non-Big East game in the arena’s first nine seasons. Now they

have dropped two in the span of five weeks.

Long Beach State raced past Pitt 86-76 on Nov. 16, blistering

the Panthers with a dizzying uptempo attack.

Wagner went the opposite way, working the shot clock and

spreading the floor while trying to wear down Pitt’s depleted

backcourt. The Panthers are playing without starting point guard

Travon Woodall, who is nursing groin and abdominal injuries.

Gibbs has taken over the majority of the ballhandling duties,

and it has worn him down. He missed his first seven shots and

finished just 5 of 16 from the field with four turnovers.

”We felt like them not having Travon would be a big advantage

for us,” Hurley said. ”They were kind of laboring getting the

ball up the court. Even on possessions where we weren’t really

rattling them, we wanted them to have a short clock.”

The victory also proved a bit bittersweet for Hurley, who twice

turned down opportunities to join Dixon’s staff at Pitt. Hurley had

served as an assistant coach at Rutgers before becoming a prominent

high school coach in New Jersey. As appreciative as he was of

Dixon’s offer, Hurley knew when he got back into the collegiate

ranks, he wanted to run his own show.

Along with his brother and assistant coach Bobby – who starred

at Duke 20 years ago – Hurley has the tiny Staten Island, N.Y.

school rapidly rising to respectability thanks to an upgraded

roster and newfound confidence.

The Seahawks played fearlessly, not panicking after the Panthers

built a 9-2 lead.

Ortiz and Tyler Murray outplayed backcourt counterparts Gibbs

and Cameron Wright, with Ortiz getting out in transition to

capitalize on sloppy ballhandling by the Panthers.

Gibbs, the preseason Big East Player of the Year, entered the

game shooting just 36 percent from the field since Woodall’s

injury, and missed all seven of his shots in the first half. Ortiz

had no such issues, going a perfect 5 of 5 to help Wagner take a

29-25 halftime lead, the first time the Panthers have trailed at

the half since losing to Long Beach State in the third game of the

season.

And Wagner – just like the 49ers – proved it wasn’t a fluke.

Rivers shook of a rough first half to score seven quick points

as the Seahawks went ahead 44-32. Pitt clamped down defensively but

couldn’t take advantage at the other end of the court.

Gibbs put together a brief hot streak to get the Panthers back

in it, but every time Pitt appeared ready to take control, Wagner

would respond with a big shot.

Pitt drew as close as three points twice in the final 36 seconds

but couldn’t get over the top. Rivers hit six straight free throws

down the stretch and the Seahawks poured onto the court in

celebration after the program’s biggest victory in 33 years.

”I said to the coaches and I’ll say to the players to make sure

you have your phones charged, because you’re going to get a lot of

texts and a lot of calls,” Hurley said.

Meanwhile, the Panthers search for answers.

The defending Big East regular season champions open conference

play at Notre Dame next Tuesday. They hoped to come in on a high.

Instead, they’re left wondering how to get back on track.

”It’s something we can grow from,” Pitt forward Lamar

Patterson said. ”We’ve got to learn from our mistakes today.”