AMHERST, N.Y. (AP)—Having survived his team’s biggest scare of the young season, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon was asked how many more road games against mid-major opponents he planned to schedule in the future.
With a pause and a wink, Dixon responded: “I’ll get back to you.”
Led by Aaron Gray’s 19 points and 11 rebounds, No. 2 Pittsburgh rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit and overcame a raucous crowd to pull out a 70-67 win over Buffalo on Saturday.
Levance Fields, who had 11 points, sealed the win with a layup as the buzzer sounded to help the Panthers (10-0) open their fourth consecutive season with 10 straight wins. For Gray, it was his seventh double-double of the year.
Yassin Idbihi scored 18 points for the Bulls (6-4), but he missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 6 seconds remaining. The Bulls cut the Panthers’ lead to 68-67 when Parnell Smith converted Idbihi’s miss with 1.7 seconds left, but Buffalo never got another chance at a shot.
Pitt, which never led by more than three points, sealed the win when Levon Kendall hit Fields with a long inbounds pass that he converted into the layup as the buzzer sounded.
“It’s bitter,” Idbihi said. “We had a chance to beat the No. 2 team in the country. We have a feeling that we just gave it away.”
Pitt won by overcoming its largest deficit of the season, 11 points in the first half. And the margin of victory was the smallest this season for the Panthers, who had won their previous nine games by at least 11 points.
Dixon wasn’t surprised by how close the outcome was against a Mid-American Conference school.
“I had a number of coaches go, `What are you doing?”’ Dixon said, referring to scheduling a game at Buffalo. “I think those people will know and say what a great win this is.”
The Bulls have been no pushovers, particularly at home, where they had won 36 of their previous 44 games. They’re also coming off three winning seasons and count wins at Temple and against Miami this year.
“We played a great team and we played great at times,” Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “They don’t leave you a lot of margin for error. We came up short because they’re a great team.”
Except for scoring the game’s first points, Pittsburgh trailed the rest of the first half and never regained the lead until Fields put the Panthers up 59-58 with 5:18 left with a layup after stealing a pass by Greg Gamble.
The teams traded leads twice then Pitt went ahead for good when Kendall hit two free throws with 4:31 left.
Gray grabbed two key rebounds down the stretch to preserve the victory.
His first came in his own end after Smith missed the second of two free throws. Fields then missed a 3-point shot at the other end, but Gray pulled down the rebound and was fouled.
He went 1-of-2 from the line to put the Panthers up 68-65 with 71 seconds remaining.
This was only Pitt’s third game away from home, including an 86-67 season-opening win against Western Michigan at West Point.
“We showed composure and poise to come out and win this game,” Fields said. “A lot of teams would’ve lost this game. I think it’s a big win for us. … We kept fighting and we got this win.”
With the win, the Panthers could chalk this up as an important lesson for a team that has eyes on a bigger goal come March. If Pitt is to go far in the NCAA tournament, it will have to learn how to win games on the road and in front of loud crowds.
“We learned a ton,” Gray said. “When you go on the road in the Big East, in the tournament, you’re going to face situations like this. It’s a good experience for us.”
The Bulls fell to 1-7 against Pitt, their only win coming in the teams’ first meeting, 34-29 in 1917.