Pitt regroups, pulls away from Florida State 73-64
PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon can tolerate losing. Barely. Dixon can’t abide his team getting outworked. After watching the Panthers get crushed on the glass by Clemson on Saturday, Dixon challenged his players to get tougher.
He found an unlikely candidate to pick up the slack: walk-on forward Aron Phillips-Nwankwo. The fifth-year senior scored seven points in 12 energetic minutes off the bench and keyed the decisive run in a 73-64 win over Florida State on Wednesday night.
Phillips-Nwankwo, a neuroscience major on an academic scholarship, began the night having scored all of 15 points during his entire career. He hit two of the three shots he took and added two rebounds and a steal. Just as importantly, he infused the Panthers with a sense of urgency.
”I figured he’d give us energy,” Dixon said. ”I don’t know I could have predicted he would play that well but I knew he would help us. No kid has worked harder, no kid has improved more than he has in five years.”
Michael Young scored 16 points to go with 12 rebounds. Four days after Clemson pushed Pitt (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) around in the lane, the Panthers did the same to the Seminoles.
”Getting outrebounded by 17 in last game was an embarrassment,” Young said. ”That’s an attack on everybody’s pride.”
Chris Jones added 15 points for Pitt, which held Florida State (9-8, 1-3) to just 32 percent shooting (10 of 31) in the second half.
Freshman Phil Cofer scored a career-high 21 points for Florida State but the Seminoles went nearly nine minutes without a field goal in the second half during a 16-3 burst by the Panthers that broke open a tight game.
”We had enough opportunities to make layups,” coach Leonard Hamilton said. ”For some reason it seemed the lid was on the basket for layups and they took advantage of every mistake that we made.”
Pitt has struggled to find any sort of consistency in the middle. Joseph Uchebo and Derrick Randall have been largely ineffective, forcing Young to play out of position at center and giving the Panthers serious matchup issues.
Dixon gave Phillips-Nwankwo – who had played five minutes this season – a shot searching for a jolt. He provided it and then some. With the game tied at 41 early in the second half, Phillips-Nwankwo hit a layup and was fouled. He made the layup and followed it with a dunk that kickstarted Pitt’s best stretch of basketball in weeks.
”That was the plan,” Phillips-Nwankwo said. ”In practice I’m the guy that plays hard with energy, defense and rebound. I’ve been doing the same thing and a few plays went my way and it was good for us.”
The Panthers clamped down on the defensive end, holding the Seminoles in check while Pitt slowly pulled away. Jamel Artis hit a baseline jumper and then a reverse lay-up to push the Panthers in front 57-44. Florida State’s Kiel Turpin finally tipped in a miss that ended an 8:50 field-goal drought but the Seminoles never drew closer than seven points the rest of the way.
WHAT’S THE SCORE?
The game was delayed for several minutes with 5:57 left in the first half following a basket by Boris Bojanovsky. The center made a running layup down the lane while getting fouled by Young. Bojanovsky took a free throw with all the Pitt players standing still as the shot clanged off the rim. The referees stood still too, incorrectly signaling that Bojanovsky was due two shots. The officials huddled and then went to the scorer’s to watch video to remind them that Bojanovsky had indeed made the field goal.
Florida State: The Seminoles used their massive size advantage to fluster Pitt early. Florida State finished with 7 blocks but just one in the second half.
Pitt: Dixon picked up his 300th career victory since taking over the program in 2003. He is the 19th-fastest coach to reach 300 victories, doing it in 401 games.
”I know it does reflect being at a place for a long time and I’m very thankful,” Dixon said. ”I’ve always been thankful for the opportunity. Sixteen years of that, that’s pretty good. That’s not always the case with college coaches.”
Florida State hosts N.C. State on Saturday.
Pitt hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday.