Pittsburgh suffered a rare home loss earlier this week, but remains alone atop the Big East.
A visit to Rutgers should give Jamie Dixon’s team a very good chance to bounce back.
After being frustrated by a slow pace in their first conference defeat, the second-ranked Panthers will likely look to speed things up as they seek a sixth consecutive road win over the Scarlet Knights on Saturday night.
Pitt (19-2, 7-1) was the Big East’s lone unbeaten team heading into Monday’s matchup with Notre Dame, and that seemed unlikely to change. The Panthers had won 20 straight home games and the Fighting Irish were 4-17 in their last 21 on the road.
Instead, Pitt didn’t seem ready for Notre Dame’s deliberate pace even after losing a similarly slow game against the Irish in the last Big East tournament. After attempting just 44 shots in that 50-45 loss, Pitt had 45 on Monday, scoring 23 points after halftime in a 56-51 defeat.
“It’s one loss. I know a lot will be made of it - we’re used to that,” Dixon said. “We need to get back to what we do and get better at sustaining it. We’ll learn from it and be better because of it - we have to be.”
They could use a better effort Saturday from leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, who grew up just north of the Rutgers campus in Scotch Plains, N.J. The junior averaged 16.8 points and shot 45.3 percent in the first 17 games, but he’s scored 10.3 points and shot 30.6 percent in the last four contests.
Gibbs had 13 points in an 83-54 home win over the Scarlet Knights on March 6 - Gilbert Brown had a game-high 19 - and was a rarely used freshman the last time the Panthers visited Rutgers on Dec. 31, 2008.
Current senior Brad Wanamaker had a season-high 15 points off the bench in that 78-72 win, Pitt’s fifth straight road victory in the series.
First-year Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice is no stranger to facing Gibbs, Wanamaker and Brown. Rice, an assistant under Dixon from 2006-07, spent the last three years as the head coach at Robert Morris University outside Pittsburgh, where he twice coached against the Panthers.
Rice’s current team is 0-3 against ranked opponents - losing by an average of 13.0 points - and it struggled even more against a team just outside the Top 25 on Wednesday. Rutgers (12-8, 3-5) trailed Cincinnati by one at halftime, but turned it over seven times in the first 10 minutes of the second half en route to a 72-56 loss.
“We were frantic for some reason,” Rice said. “We had to play at the same pace and we didn’t. We tried to speed up. We talk about playing at our pace the whole game. Credit Cincinnati, whether they wore us down or got us to play at their pace.”
Despite trying to push the tempo against a Bearcats team that relies on full-court pressure, the Scarlet Knights might want to try to emulate what Notre Dame did against Pitt. Rutgers is 11-0 when it holds its opponent to 65 points or fewer and 1-8 when it allows 67 or more.
The Panthers are 8-11 since the start of 2008-09 when they score fewer than 65 points. They’re 67-5 when they score 65 or more.