As the last eight to 10 years have shown us, it doesn’t matter where the Pitt Panthers are ranked, or how bad the Providence Friars are.
The results are always the same. Pitt will struggle against Providence.
That was evident again Tuesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.
The Panthers jumped to an early lead, but let the Friars back into the game. Pitt also seemed to control most of the second half, upping their lead to double digits with less than three minutes left, but Providence wouldn’t go away.
Pitt even found themselves trailing by four with less 90 seconds left, but this Pitt team has something that some of Jamie Dixon teams in the past haven’t had: depth and experience.
That was the difference in No. 5 Pitt coming back to defeat the Friars 83-79.
Pitt’s depth proved huge tonight. The Panthers showed that they can win without their two best players—guards Brad Wanamaker and Aston Gibbs—having big games. The duo combined to score only 19 points tonight.
Gilbert Brown was huge in the first half, scoring 17 points, but foul trouble limited him to only two second half points.
Dixon had to do it with his other guys tonight as four of his regulars were in foul trouble most of the game.
None were bigger than center Gary McGhee and guard Travon Woodall, especially late.
McGhee had a solid stat line, chipping in 13 points and nine rebounds. McGhee is there to play defense and rebound, but his ability to finish around the rim lately is a huge plus for Pitt.
However, it was a sequence late in the game when both McGhee and Woodall proved big for the Panthers.
Down by two with less than 45 seconds left, Woodall hit a three-pointer to give the Panthers the lead. McGhee hit two free throws and Woodall made two more to help No. 5 Pittsburgh hold on.
The free throws were huge. When do the Panthers make their free throws? Especially in the clutch. That’s exactly what McGhee, who was shooting 42 percent from the charity stripe coming in, and Woodall did.
It was huge.
The win improved the Panthers to 14-1 on the season, but not all was positive.
Two of Pitt’s major flaws were exposed tonight: handling the press and guarding the perimeter shot. Both almost did the Panthers in.
Even with an experienced backcourt, Pitt turned the ball over 24 times, mostly due to the Friars pressure. They looked lost at times, which you wouldn’t expect from this team.
However, with the game on the line, the experienced Panthers settled down and took care of the ball.
Every team has their team that gives them fits no matter what. For the Panthers, that team is Providence.
To go on the road and come out with the win, in a game they could have lost, will prove big in the long run.