Pittsburgh’s latest loss came against a team it was expected to beat. The Panthers, though, have yet to exhibit such vulnerability at the Petersen Events Center.
Losers of two straight for the first time in nearly two years, the 17th-ranked Panthers look to extend a 31-game home winning streak against unranked teams as they face St. John’s in a Big East matchup Thursday night.
Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2) fell eight spots in this week’s poll after losing two straight for the first time since a three-game skid in February 2008. After falling 74-66 at home to then-No. 12 Georgetown last Wednesday, the Panthers went on the road four days later and lost 64-61 to a Seton Hall team that had been 2-4 in Big East play.
Pittsburgh shot 35.3 percent, falling to 2-3 when failing to make better than 40 percent, and its 20 turnovers were one shy of a season high.
“We just have to bounce back from these losses and get going again,” center Gary McGhee said. “We haven’t lost any confidence. We just committed too many turnovers against Seton Hall and had a few defensive mishaps against Georgetown that kept us from winning those games, so we need to turn those games around.”
The Panthers now return to the Petersen Events Center, where they had won 31 straight before losing to the Hoyas. They’ve won 31 in a row at home against unranked foes, holding opponents to 59.9 points per game.
Pittsburgh has won five straight at home against St. John’s (12-7, 2-5) by an average of 20.6 points. The Red Storm have lost five of seven overall and are 1-4 on the road this season.
St. John’s now has to contend with Ashton Gibbs, who averages 17.3 points while shooting a Big East-best 94.2 percent from the free throw line.
Gibbs made all 14 of his free throws Sunday, finishing with 23 points versus the Pirates, but he missed two potential game-tying 3-point attempts in the final 5 seconds. The sophomore guard was held to eight points on 3-of-16 shooting against Georgetown, and he’s 7 for 28 in his last two games at the Petersen Events Center.
St. John’s leading scorer D.J. Kennedy, averaging 15.3 points, had 10 on 2-of-12 shooting in an 81-71 loss to then-No. 4 Villanova on Saturday. The Red Storm scored 16 straight points and led by as many as 11 in the first half, but lost their second straight conference game.
“We are doing the right things,” coach Norm Roberts said. “We just have to finish plays.”
The Red Storm are expected to welcome back reserve forward Justin Brownlee after he missed a game due to a death in the family. Brownlee is averaging 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Anthony Mason Jr., meanwhile, had 10 points in his first start of the season and fifth game overall after missing two months due to a hamstring injury. Mason also missed most of last season with a tendon injury in his right foot after averaging 14.0 points in 2007-08.
St. John’s desperately needs Mason to re-emerge as a steady contributor offensively for a team averaging 62.1 points in Big East games, second-worst in the conference.
The Red Storm were without Mason when they committed 24 turnovers in a 90-67 road loss to the Panthers on Jan. 11, 2009, the teams’ last meeting.
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