Game Notes: Pittsburgh at DePaul
Blue Demons get a big win in the Big East.
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell mentioned that he and his team recently went around campus delivering pizza to every dorm as students returned to school after winter break. They repaid fans by knocking off Pittsburgh, 84-81, for their first Big East victory of the year.
For awhile, it appeared as though free throws could be the chink in the Blue Demons’ armor, but some cool, clutch shooting by Brandon Young made the charity stripe an ally in the end.
On several occasions, DePaul had chances to tie, take or extend their lead via the foul line, but was unable to capitalize. With the score knotted at 81, however, and the ball in the Blue Demons’ possession as the final 10 seconds ticked off the clock, the typically solid Pitt interior defense was nonexistent and the lane parted open like the Red Sea; Driving left past Ashton Gibbs, Young finished through the contact, got fouled and made the free throw to put his team ahead by one.
“That was kind of a carbon copy of four or five drives that he had. I thought he got fouled on two or three of them, but he came away with nothing. This time he went strong, got fouled and scored, so it was nice to see that he kept attacking,” said Purnell.
He then picked off a desperate, full-court Panthers heave, got fouled, went to the line and made both free throws to put the icing on the cake.
Early on, Pitt appeared to be well on their way to snapping their three-game losing streak, and to perpetuating DePaul’s well-documented conference struggles. After falling behind 6-0, the Panthers used a 24-8 run to get back behind the steering wheel. DePaul foul trouble—Pitt was in the double bonus for a majority of the half—and strong inside play helped the Panthers grab their largest lead of 12.
“I thought it was a tale of two halves for us,” said Purnell. “I didn’t think we played well…but we just kind of hung in there in the first half and we were close enough that we could still see them. The second half, I thought we were really, really, good. I thought the key to the second half—and really to the rest of the game—was the guys kept believing that if we keep doing what we do, we’re gonna have a real good chance to win.”
Instead of Pitt shutting the door, DePaul was able to hang around, and cut the deficit to seven by halftime, trailing 38-31. By half’s end, the teams had actually played each other fairly even. Field goals percentage, and rebound, turnover and assists totals were all comparable. Pitt connected on five free throws, though, and that was the difference.
At the beginning of the second half, it again looked like Pitt was going to take control with a 5-0 run. The Blue Demons remained unruffled, however, and a key coaching adjustment by Oliver Purnell provided some much needed life.
Playing freshman Derrell Robertson over senior Krys Faber to start the half proved to be a wise move by Purnell, as the freshman came in, threw his body around and had two huge blocks (on the same possession) to establish his presence and get his team fired up.
“He’s been practicing well,” Purnell said after the game. “He came in the other night against Syracuse and did some things, [so we said] ‘let’s go with him,’ because he will give us a physical presence. He may foul a little bit, but we needed that. He fouled a couple guys, but he blocked a couple shots. I thought he was terrific.”
Though they fell behind by as many as 10, the Blue Demons, namely Moses Morgan, got hot from beyond the arc.
Three 3-pointers—two by Morgan, one by Jamie Crockett—and a Brandon Young layup cut the Blue Demons’ deficit to one with 13:49 left to play. Morgan went to the line with a chance to tie the game, but missed the front end of a one-and-one, starting a brief streak of squandered Blue Demons opportunities.
The Panthers, on the other hand, went cold from two for a stretch, but were able to hang on almost exclusively via offensive rebounds.
A Cleveland Melvin layup gave the game its first tie—55-55—since the score was 6-6 early in the first half. Two Melvin free throws would eventually give the Blue Demons their first lead at 59-58, though he missed two intentional foul free throws on the ensuing play that could have really put DePaul in control.
While both teams struggled offensively at various points in the game, both were effective in the game’s final minutes. Pitt did their work largely on the offensive glass (out-rebounding DePaul 50-32, 20 offensive boards), while DePaul got the job done scoring off turnovers.
Close games are not something foreign to DePaul, but finishing them is. Young had a different agenda, though, handling the ball and operating in a side pick-and-roll for much of the second half for DePaul. He scored seven points in the final eight seconds to take the lead and seal the deal for the Blue Demons, winning his battle against pre-season Big East POY Ashton Gibbs.
For DePaul, any Big East win is a big win—they’ve already matched their conference win total from each of the past two years—which would explain why fans felt compelled to storm the court. Young led the way with 26 points, six assists, five steals, four boards and just one turnover. Melvin added 20, and Morgan chipped in 13.
“We had a number of guys play well, four, five, six guys. Obviously Brandon’s bounce-back performance was big. Cleveland was big because he struggled so much during the game and then he made some plays for us down the stretch. Worrel [Clahar], the job he did defensively on Gibbs for so much of the game. Derrell, starting the second half and giving us some post presence defensively. Moses Morgan his some big shots. So many guys made plays and played well, particularly in the second, it gave us a great opportunity to pull it out.”
For Pitt, however, the struggles and questions continue. Center Talib Zanna was their leading man, shooting 8-for-8 to finish with 16 points. Four others, including Gibbs, finished in double figures, but they had two more turnovers than assists as a team.
“We both played hard and it’s a shame someone had to lose,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said in defeat. “I was very proud of our guys and the effort we had in practice this week getting ready for this. I told them how proud I was of the way they battled. I was really happy with the effort. We came up short, the offense is not where it needs to be, but we out-rebounded by a big number so that shows the effort we’re putting out there.
“We don’t guard the dribble real well, and I think some of our turnovers led to layups which gives them a higher field goal percentage. We just don’t seen to guard the penetration well, that’s what really sticks out,” said Dixon.
Tray Woodal missed his eighth straight game for the Panthers, who host Rutgers on Wednesday.