Pittsburgh, now 7-1, uses three scoring runs to surge past Eagles and even Eastern’s record at 5-5
Chalk it up to the old adage, “to be the best you have to play the best.”
Pittsburgh used a 15-0 run to open a 19-point halftime advantage, and the Atlantic Coast Conference foe used runs of 11-0 and 13-0 in the second half to defeat the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team 84-51 Friday (Dec. 11) in a non-conference game at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The game was part of the Gotham Classic presented by the Gazelle Group.
Eastern cut the lead to as few as 13 in the second half, but the game turned into free throw fest for the Panthers in helping them pull away. They sank 16-of-18 in the half on their way to a 22-of-27 performance in the game.
“The way we played the first five minutes of the second half was with the kind of energy we have to play with the entire game,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “At halftime we came out and said, ‘let’s come out swinging and at least play hard.’ And I was pleased to see that kind of energy – we just couldn’t sustain it.”
At one point, Pitt went 5:56 without a field goal, but sank seven free throws in that stretch. Eastern, however, had its own seven-minute field goal-less drought and the Panthers used the 11-0 run to regain a 24-point advantage. Pitt led by as many as 37 with a late 13-0 run.
Eastern was out-rebounded 43-22 and sank a season-low 37.3 percent from the field, including just 7-of-23 3-pointers. The Eagles entered the game ranked 33rd in scoring offense (83.8) and 24th in field goal percentage (49.5 percent)
“That’s the best team I’ve coached against in my five years here,” added Hayford. “They are a very, very good basketball team.”
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 5-5, having lost both games thus far on a three-game, six-day road trip to the East Coast. The Eagles play three more non-conference games before beginning Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 31.
* Pittsburgh is 7-1 and owns a three-game winning streak, with its lone loss coming against 11th-ranked Purdue on Dec. 1 by a 72-59 score.
What It Means . . .
* Eastern’s East Coast road trip has been a challenge, starting Monday when the Eagles lost 96-86 at Davidson from the Atlantic-10 Conference. Along with Pittsburgh from the Atlantic Coast Conference, those two teams are a combined 13-2 on the season (Davidson 6-1, Pittsburgh 7-1), and the four teams EWU is facing in the Gotham Classic are now a collective 21-9 (Western Carolina 3-5, Morehead State 5-2). Western Carolina, EWU’s opponent on Monday in Cullowhee, N.C., will play at Davidson on Dec. 12 prior to hosting the Eagles. Morehead State will play at Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 prior to making the trip to the West Coast to face Eastern on Dec. 17 in Cheney, Wash.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern ends its road trip at Western Carolina on Monday (Dec. 14) at 4 p.m. Pacific time at the Ramsey Center. Following the East Coast swing, Eastern returns home to face Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference on Dec. 17 on a game that will be broadcast live regionally on SWX. Fans can listen to all EWU games on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com. All EWU home games are broadcast on www.watchbigky.com.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern entered the game ranked 29th in NCAA Division I in fewest turnovers per game (10.7), but had eight in the first half alone and 15 in the game. Pittsburgh scored 16 points off those turnovers out of the 42 it scored in the opening 20 minutes. The Panthers finished with 27 points off turnovers, plus had 14 offensive rebounds to gain a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Top Performers . .
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom, coming off a career-best 33-point performance at Davidson, led the Eagles with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field. He made a trio of 3-point baskets and had three assists.
* Junior Felix Von Hofe hit a pair of 3-pointers and 4-of-7 shots overall to finish with 10 points.
* Senior Venky Jois scored 10 points and had five rebounds. He made 4-of-10 shots from the field after entering the game ranked sixth in NCAA Division I with a field goal percentage of 69.3 percent.
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk chipped in seven points and five rebounds.
Turning Point . . .
* Austin McBroom and Bogdan Bliznyuk each hit a pair of early 3-pointers to keep Eastern within 7-6 with 17:28 to play, but Eastern didn’t score again until the 12:36 mark. In that 15-0 run for the Panthers, the Eagles missed five shots and had an uncharacteristic five turnovers, while the Panthers made 5-of-6 shots and sank four free throws. The 16-point lead ballooned to 19 at halftime when Pitt scored the final seven points of the half.
Key Stats . . .
* Pitt led in most categories, but was most dominating in rebounding (43-22) and led in shooting percentage (50 percent to 37 percent) and fewest turnovers (12 to 15). Eastern was whistled for 18 fouls and Pitt made 22-of-27 free throws, while the Eagles were 6-of-10 at the line on 12 Panther fouls.
Team Highlights . . .
* Trailing at halftime by 19, the Eagles made four-straight shots and used a 9-2 run early in the second half to cut the lead to 14. Felix Von Hofe scored the last five points on a 3-pointer and a layup, and Jesse Hunt and Venky Jois also hit baskets in that stretch. A basket by Austin McBroom with 15:04 left kept the lead at 14, but Eastern had three turnovers and missed five shots and a pair of free throws over the next seven minutes before hitting its next field goal at the 8:04 mark.
Notables . . .
* Of EWU’s four opponents in the Gotham Classic (Davidson, Pittsburgh, Western Carolina, Morehead State), three of them will be the first-ever meetings between the schools. The only one of those opponents EWU has faced before was Morehead State back on Dec. 29, 1969. Eastern lost that game 84-69 as part of the Granite City Classic in St. Cloud, Minn.
* Pitt was 19-15 overall and 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, and lost to George Washington 60-54 in the NIT. Adding Davidson (24-8/14-4 in the Atlantic-10), Western Carolina (15-17/9-9 Southern Conference) and Morehead State (17-17/10-6 OVC) to the mix, those four opponents were a collective 75-57 overall and 41-29 in league play a year ago.
* The Panthers enter the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (+2.12 per game), with averages of 22.1 assists (second in the nation) and just 10.4 turnovers per game (20th). They finished with 15 assists and 12 turnovers. The Panthers are ninth in scoring offense (87.4) and sixth in scoring margin (+24.4 per game). Besides ranking 18th in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage (49.9 percent), the Panthers were also 24th in field goal percentage defense (37.0 percent) and 32nd in scoring defense (63.0).
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Rebounding: “Obviously we got killed on the boards and we knew that would be a big possibility coming into the game. They are a great offensive rebounding team.”
On Learning From Loss: “We’ll look at the video and see plenty of mistakes. Mistakes are a great teacher unless you are a foolish learner. If you are a foolish learner you’ll keep repeating same mistakes. The good thing about playing a great team is that it exposes your weaknesses and shows where you have to get better. We have three games left in non-conference play, and if we win two out of three we finish with a winning non-conference season. That’s the challenge. All three of the teams we play would be in the top tier of the Big Sky Conference. We’ll learn what we need to learn and move forward. This is the second long road trip of non-conference play, and we’ll use this experience to get better from it.”