Outside of Xavier it's difficult to think of many two-game losing streaks this season that have sparked as much concern nationally as the one Pittsburgh is currently going through. A team that looked preoccupied with their Christmas break plans on Friday in a 59-54 home loss to Wagner dropped another game on Tuesday, 72-59 at Notre Dame. The second half was a serious departure from what the Panthers do on both ends of the court, with Notre Dame being able to accomplish just about whatever they wanted to offensively. Mike Brey's team shot a staggering 72% in the second half and scored 42 points, and Alex Dragicevic scored a career-high 22 points to lead the way.
"He was 2-for-6 in the first half. Then in the second half the three-pointers and the some lay-ups got him going," said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon of Dragicevic. "That's where it really got started and then their three-pointers broke it open. Give them credit they were patient we had some breakdowns that were pretty hard to recover from."
Point guard Tray Woodall returned to the rotation for Pittsburgh after being out since the Duquesne game with groin and abdominal injuries, and it's safe to say that the redshirt junior wasn't 100% on Tuesday. Woodall played 18 minutes and did not score, tallying two assists and two turnovers off the bench. Talib Zanna led the way for the Panthers with 13 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, but that wasn't enough to make up for Pitt making just one of fourteen shots from beyond the arc and being outscored 21-3 on three-pointers. But the biggest concern for Pittsburgh going forward has to be the defensive breakdows, as the Fighting Irish were able to find a number of open looks in the second half as they ran away with the game.
"Second half the defense just let down for us," said Dixon. "They executed - converted lay-ups that they turned into open jump shots and they started making those. We need to play better, we will play better and that's what we have to work on."
In addition to Dragicevich, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant scored 15 points apiece for Notre Dame, who has now beaten the Panthers in each of their last four meetings. The Irish scored 1.24 points per possession and finished with an efficiency of 124.1, the highest number Pitt has allowed since their loss to Long Beach State in the third game of the season. Challenging cutters and playing tough defense has been one of the trademarks of the Pitt program going back to the Ben Howland years, but that wasn't on display Tuesday night. With talented players such as Woodall, Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson the potential to turn things around is defintely there. Whether or not the Panthers act on that potential is entirely up to them.
Other Notable Happenings
1. After a quick start, Nebraska gets a rude introduction to Big Ten basketball from Wisconsin.
While there's no doubt that Nebraska was coming from a very tough basketball conference in the Big 12, their first taste of Big Ten basketball was going to be an interesting experience for Doc Sadler's program. Things were going very well for the Huskers to begin their game against Wisconsin as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead. But the Badgers stayed the course and did what they do: execute on both ends of the floor at their tempo. What resulted was a thorough beating of Nebraska in Lincoln, with Wisconsin holding the home team to 14 second-half points in the 64-40 win.
Ryan Evans scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed six rebounds and Wisconsin made 11 of 21 shots from beyond the arc on the night. Jordan Taylor finished with 15 points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals with just one turnover, and the Badgers picked apart the Nebraska defense to shoot 51% from the field while holding the Huskers to 31% shooting. Nebraska will encounter different styles of play in their first run through the Big Ten, but they found out that playing Bo Ryan's team is an experience unlike any other.
2. Moe Harkless puts up a performance for the ages in a St. John's blowout of Providence.
The question for St. John's was a simple one entering Big East play: even with the arrival of Amir Garrett would the Red Storm have enough depth to navigate the conference slate? Hard to glean a concrete conclusion from one game, but to say the least the Big East opener for the Johnnies. Moe Harkless put up a performance for the ages with 32 points and 13 rebounds while D'Angelo Harrison added 25 points and seven rebounds in the 91-67 win over Providence. This was a stunning outcome considering the Friars' 11-2 start under first-year head coach Ed Cooley, not to mention the struggles of the home team. And that "performance for the ages" line isn't hyperbole, it's fact.
Harkless' point total replaced the 30 points scored by Troy Murphy and Allen Iverson in their Big East debuts as the highest point total in conference history. Think about all the great freshmen who have played in the Big East through the years, and that makes Harkless' achievement all the more noteworthy. St. John's shot 56.5% from the field and forced 20 Providence turnovers, converting those miscues into 34 points. For the talk of Providence feeling a bit disrespected due to the game being played at Carnesecca Arena instead of MSG they sure didn't look like a team that deserved that stage on Tuesday, and that's a credit to how well St. John's played.
3. Illinois needs double overtime to beat Minnesota in Champaign.
The end of game execution for both teams left much to be desired with Illinois becoming stagnant offensively and Minnesota not fouling when down six with less than a minute in double overtime, but that shouldn't take away from how entertaining the Big Ten opener was. Brandon Paul led the Fighting Illini to the 81-72 win with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Meyers Leonard added 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Illinois turned the ball over 21 times but ended up winning by limiting the Golden Gophers to 37.7% shooting, and Minnesota could only manage 16 points off of those turnovers.
By comparison Illinois scored 19 points off of 14 Minnesota turnovers, as a result helping to minimize the impact of their mistakes. Ralph Sampson III led Minnesota with 22 points and nine rebound but the Gophers had just two players score in double figures while Illinois finished with five, and that's not going to get it done for Tubby Smith's team down the line if they want to be an NCAA Tournament team. Illinois will need to cut down on their turnovers but it should be seen as an encouraging sign that Bruce Weber's team was able to make up for the discrepancy in other areas to pull out the win.
1. Georgia needed overtime to beat Winthrop at home 82-76, but the question is whether or not the game should have gone to overtime to begin with. With the Eagles leading 76-74 in the final seconds, Georgia's Gerald Robinson junior got away with a blatant travel and scored the game-tying basket.
2. Rhode Island head coach Jim Baron made the decision on Tuesday to dismiss leading scorer Jamal Wilson (16.4 ppg) for a violation of team rules. To say the least this is the last thing the Rams, who are 1-11 on the season. Mid-year transfers Andre Malone and Billy Baron should have every opportunity to take over as the primary scoring options as a result of this move.
3. Also on Tuesday, Illinois guard Crandall Head announced his decision to leave the school. Head, whose older brother is Illinois great Luther Head, averaged just 6.4 minutes per game this season.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Moe Harkless and G D'Angelo Harrison (St. John's)
Harkless finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and four assists while Harrison added 25, seven assists and three steals in the Red Storm's 91-67 win over Providence.
2. G Andre Jones (Winthrop)
33 points (10-15 FG) and three rebounds in the Eagles' 82-76 overtime loss at Georgia.
3. F Ryan Evans (Wisconsin)
22 points (9-11 FG), six rebounds and two assists in the Badgers' 64-40 win over Nebraska.