Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon knew it would take time for his young team to grow up.
He just didn’t expect the growing pains to be so, well, painful.
Long Beach State became just the second non-Big East team to win at the Petersen Events Center, stunning the ninth-ranked Panthers 86-76 on Wednesday night.
”We got beat every which way,” Dixon said.
Casper Ware scored a career-high 28 points, James Ennis added 19 and Larry Anderson had 12 points and seven assists for the 49ers (2-0), who emphatically ended Pitt’s 58-game non-conference home winning streak.
”All teams, they try to do a lot to stop us from running, but we were just too fast today,” Ware said. ”We were clicking on offense and it was too fast (for them) to stop us.”
Ashton Gibbs led the Panthers (2-1) with 20 points and Nasir Robinson added 19, but the Panthers simply couldn’t keep up with the 49ers.
”They wanted it more than us,” Robinson said. ”They worked harder. They ran harder. They got to loose balls. They executed better than us. They outsmarted us.”
Mostly, they outplayed the Panthers.
Long Beach State took a nine-point halftime lead and never let up.
Pitt drew within six points on a few occasions, but each time the 49ers answered to become the first non-Big East team to beat the Panthers at home since Bucknell in 2005.
The victory was Long Beach State’s first over a Top 10 team since beating then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 25, 1993, when most of the current 49ers were in diapers.
This was no fluke, however.
Long Beach never trailed after taking the lead less than eight minutes in, attacking Pitt from the opening tip. If Ware wasn’t knocking down three-pointers, he, Ennis and Anderson were splitting Pitt’s zone and finding open teammates.
The 49ers shot 59 percent from the floor, collected 24 assists on 32 baskets and turned it over just 10 times, beating the Panthers both outside and inside.
”It’s a big win, but we expected to win this,” Ware said. ”Everybody in the locker room knew we were going to win this game.”
They went out and played like it, too, outscoring Pitt 25-5 on the break and 48-31 in the paint, even slightly out-rebounding the bigger, stronger defending Big East regular season champions.
Dixon has preached patience while his team searches for a new identity behind Gibbs, the Big East preseason Player of the Year.
The Panthers looked lethargic at times in a win over Rider on Sunday. Dixon stressed the need to get more tenacious on defense, a hallmark of the program since he replaced Ben Howland in 2003.
There’s still plenty to work on. Long Beach wasn’t intimidated by the long cross-country trip, the late tipoff or one of the country’s toughest places to play.
Pitt came in unbeaten in 80 home non-conference games in November and December at ”The Pete.”
Most of the wins have been laughers. When asked to answer the bell for the first time this season, the Panthers responded too late.
Pitt’s best chance to get back in it came on back-to-back three-pointers by Travon Woodall and Gibbs that pulled the Panthers to 62-56. The 49ers responded with a pull-up from Edis Dervisevic and a steal and dunk by Ennis, who flexed after flushing it to push the lead back to 10.
The Panthers crept to within six twice more, but couldn’t get key stops.
”We knew they were very good and we wanted to play someone very good,” Dixon said. ”They’re an experienced team. I had anticipated us being a much better team this time and, obviously, we’re not where I’d like us to be.”
The 49ers, by contrast, are right on schedule.
The game marked the start of a daunting stretch for Long Beach, who plays at defending Mountain West champion San Diego State, No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina and in Hawai’i against No. 13 Xavier — all before Christmas.
It’s all part of coach Dan Monson’s plan to have his team tested by the time Big West Conference play starts in January.
It’s a method he worked expertly while at Gonzaga in the 1990s, putting the Washington school on the map with a series of deep NCAA tournament runs.
He’s yet to get Long Beach to the tournament, though he knows this is his best shot.
”I told ’em the first meeting of the year that playing this schedule is unacceptable,” he said. ”It’s time for this team to stop playing the toughest schedule and start competing against the toughest schedule.”
The 49ers certainly looked ready for the challenge to come, racing to a 45-36 halftime lead by lulling the Panthers into playing the kind of up-tempo style that is out of place in leagues such as the Big East.
Long Beach ran, and ran, and then ran some more behind the speedy Ware. Beating Pitt down the floor with stunning regularity, the 49ers turned every Panther mistake into points at the other end.
Confidence grew with each basket, and by the time the horn sounded all Pitt could do is trudge off the floor as the shouts of about two dozen Long Beach State supporters echoed throughout the quiet arena.