No. 9 Pittsburgh continues to roll through the conference, utilizing a powerhouse of what head coach Jamie Dixon refers to as nine starters on his team, most recently defeating St. John’s by a score of 72-46.
Pitt’s (19-3, 7-1 Big East) Aaron Gray, named Big East preseason player of the year for the ’06-07 season, owned the paint with his usual double-double, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Gray hard-bodied St. John’s down low and was aggressive in the post, leading the Panthers to their best conference record in the Big East since they were on their way to the conference championship 25 years ago.
St. John’s did not come out with a well-needed spark in the second half, remaining out-rebounded as the Panthers went on a 26-8 run ending at the 7:49 mark in the second half. Pitt was very active off the glass, not leaving holes in the defense while setting up traps and, on the offensive side of the floor, spreading the five.
“We were making some of the right moves to get the looks that we needed, but we were making the shots that we needed to get back in the game,” coach Norm Roberts told pittsburghpanthers.cstv.com. “We had to be tougher on defense to give ourselves a chance.”
No one could find an answer for the 7-foot Gray, who made it difficult for the Storm’s starting front court of forwards Anthony Mason, Jr. and Lamont Hamilton and center Aaron Spears to get into position. Forward Sam Young also had a solid game for the Panthers, finishing with 11 points. Pittsburgh saw 10 of its players involved in the offense, with major contributions from the bench, which scored about one-third of the team’s points. The Johnnies had the spirit but could not produce the goods on the offensive side of the floor. Usual contributor, shooting guard Avery Patterson could not whip out the arsenal, seeing most of his three-point attempts hit the front end of the rim. Mason, Jr., who was only 2-of-10 from the field, could not get the ball to drop for him, but still managed 10 points and six rebounds. Floor general Eugene Lawrence finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists. Hamilton, the team’s leading scorer, was held relatively quiet with just eight points.
“He’s a very good player and we put four or five guys on him throughout the game, which was the plan coming in,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of Hamilton. “We were fortunately able to do that today because as he’s proven before when he gets going he can really hurt us.”
At the 4:26 mark of the first half St. John’s showed signs of a pulse with Lawrence draining a three, followed by freshman guard Larry Wright’s trey and a lay-up by freshman forward Qa’rraan Calhoun. Lawrence finished the small 9-5 run after going to the line and draining a free throw, giving the Johnnies a little momentum going into halftime, down by just 10 points. St. John’s struggled with getting stops and going on a substantial run to bring them back to a single-digit deficit. Pittsburgh held St. John’s to only 14 points in the opening 15 minutes of the first half.
“We were able to stop Pitt a few times, but we couldn’t get the rebounds we needed. We’d contest their shots and they’d miss, but then we couldn’t get the rebounds,” Lawrence said. “You can’t do things like that on the road and expect to win.”