PITTSBURGH — Ryan Cline caught the ball at the top of the key, hesitated for just a second and let it fly. A minute later he found himself open in the corner and did it again. On Purdue’s next trip down, the freshman stood all alone behind the 3-point line one more time.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
Not bad for a kid playing the first big minutes of his career.
Cline scored all 12 of his points in the second half — including those three consecutive 3-pointers — to give the 11th-ranked Boilermakers the spark they needed to surge past Pittsburgh 72-59 on Tuesday night.
"He’s the best shooter I’ve ever been around," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
Cline certainly looked like it, brushing off two first-half misses to go 4 for 4 over the final 20 minutes to help Purdue push its record to 7-0.
"Obviously the first half couldn’t really get anything to go," Cline said. "My teammates, they were in the locker room telling me to keep shooting the ball."
With center Isaac Haas hampered by foul trouble and senior guard Rapheal Davis out with a minor knee injury, Purdue survived behind Cline and senior center A.J. Hammons — who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 10 of 15 from the field.
"I thought A.J. did a great job of finishing," Painter said. "When A.J. came alive and was making some plays it opened things up and Ryan stepped up and made some 3s."
The Boilermakers needed them after Pitt (4-1) erased a 17-point first-half deficit, taking its only lead on a jumper by James Robinson that put the Panthers up 44-43 with 12:21 to play.
A 3-pointer by Cline put Purdue back in front and after a Sheldon Jeter shot drew Pitt within 50-49, Cline added three more 3s during the game-deciding 11-1 run.
"We knew (Cline) was a shooter coming in," Robinson said. "Like I said, we had some mental mistakes. We left him open in the corner and he hit the shots."
Robinson led the Panthers with 17 points and Michael Young added 16 points and 12 rebounds but Pitt shot a season-low 35 percent and made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.
"We had wide open 3s, I think three or four in a row that we don’t hit," coach Jamie Dixon said. "They can’t be deflating but they were. That’s what we have to get across to our guys."
The Boilermakers came in unbeaten and largely unchallenged, winning each of their first six games by at least 15 points behind a defense that leads the country in field goal percentage. When pushed by the Panthers, Purdue responded by pulling away in a building that’s traditionally one of the toughest in the country for opponents to win.
Davis, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season, saw his string of 45 straight starts end due to a sprained knee suffered in practice last week. Painter praised Davis for staying engaged while watching from the bench, adding Davis is making significant progress.
"He’s good at running," Painter said. "Changing directions, cutting, he doesn’t have that trust yet. We’ll see how it goes."
SEARCHING FOR D
Dixon chastised his team’s inability to play with urgency after climbing out of the big hole early. The Panthers had come in largely untested save for a bizarre trip to Japan to face No. 13 Gonzaga in the opener. The game was called at halftime due to safety concerns over excessive moisture on the court. Pitt piled up four victories over unheralded opponents before facing the Boilermakers.
"We obviously got a one-point lead in the second half, got a lead with 12 minutes left, you’ve got to finish it," Dixon said. "It’s your home court. We’ve got to finish it."
Purdue has won seven straight games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the second-longest streak in the series. Duke won 10 straight from 1999-2008. … The Panthers lost for just the fifth time in 127 nonconference games at the Petersen Events Center.
Purdue begins a four-game homestand against New Mexico on Saturday.
Pitt faces crosstown rival Duquesne in the annual City Game at Consol Energy Center on Friday.