Entering Tuesday night's game against Providence, No. 22 Pitt had never lost to the Friars in four meetings at the Petersen Events Center, and Tuesday night followed suit, as the Panthers used an overwhelming second-half performance to secure a 82-63 victory.
Pitt (19-5 overall, 7-4 Big East) was led by junior Sam Young, who had game-highs of 22 points and 7 rebounds, but the key to the team's success was a near-impeccable performance from the field, as the Panthers shot 58.6%. Starters Young, DeJuan Blair (15 points, 6/8 shooting), Keith Benjamin (10 points, 5/9 shooting), and Ronald Ramon (15 points, 5/8 shooting, 5/7 3PT.) led the charge in efficiency, hitting 26-of-39 and scoring 62 of the Panthers' 82 points.
Tuesday night's high-octane performance came on the heels of a couple of rather lackluster offensive games against Connecticut and West Virginia.
"I think it feels good knowing that we can pass the ball again and set screens and motion and find the guys that are open," Ramon said after the game. "We came out today and we did a good job of it."
Young's performance was also somewhat of a surge from the Panthers' last game, when he took just six shots in the 55-54 win over West Virginia last Thursday.
"I think today I was looking to take high percentage shots," Young said. "I got a couple of easy buckets and got into rhythm and took advantage of it."
In the second half Pitt was as close to perfect as they have been all season, hitting 16-of-26 shots (61.5%), and the bulk of that efficient shooting came during a 21-2 that covered 9 minutes in the early going of the period.
"I think we came out on fire in the beginning, but after we got a couple turnovers, that really got us going and created a lot of intensity for us," Young said.
In fact, defense key for Pitt in the second-half run, as the Panthers forced six turnovers and held Providence to just 1-of-10 shooting over a nine-minute period.
"The run was based on our defense, not our offense," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. "We got it done with our defense, and that was the key. It was just solid defense."
The solid defense of the second half was a noticeable change from the first half, when the Friars hit 57.7% from the floor and scored 37 points, just five short of Pitt's first-half tally.
"I thought our offense was good the whole game," Dixon said. "We passed it well, found the open man, and really shared it and got it to the open man and knocked down shots. In the second half we really made a commitment defensively; we talked about it at halftime, really getting it done on the defensive end in the second half, and that's what we did."
"We felt like we were playing great offense but we couldn't stop them from scoring," Young said. "When we started switching the handoffs and hedging ball screens and forcing them to take low percentage shots, that's when we took off," Young said. "We took advantage."
"I suspect when we shot 58% in the first half that they talked about increasing the defensive intensity," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "They're a fantastic team defensively. In the second half it was evident that they pushed us around offensively. They've got a lot of answers and Young is just a terrific player."
All told, Pitt forced 14 Providence turnovers in the game and scored 19 points off the turnovers. In addition, the Panthers committed just 8 turnovers themselves and recorded 22 assists on 34 baskets.
The Panthers now have two days off before taking the court Friday night in Milwaukee for a 9 PM (EST) tip-off against Marquette.
Chris Peak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org