ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP)—Aaron Gray doesn’t play against man-to-man defenses too often anymore, but when DePaul tried to play him straight up on Wednesday night, he took advantage of it.
Gray scored 18 points and had seven rebounds to lead No. 7 Pittsburgh to a 59-49 victory over DePaul.
“Obviously I was real excited for the opportunity, being one-on-one, playing man-to-man defense. I feel I took advantage of it. At the same time, there are a lot of things I think I could have done better. I need to continue to be better for this team to be better,” Gray said.
Leading 33-26 early in the second half, Pittsburgh (15-2, 3-0 Big East) extended its lead by outscoring DePaul 7-0 during a four-minute span. Gray made a layup, then Antonio Graves hit a 3 and Levon Kendall hit a jumper, giving Pitt a 40-26 lead with 12:37 left.
Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon wasn’t concerned that Gray didn’t score in double-digits in his last two games.
“Were not into embarrassing our opponents. Some games he’s going to have more. I thought (DePaul) would double-team more, and they didn’t do that,” said Dixon. “Aaron is such a good passer. We’re going through him every game. If you look at the stats and don’t see the game, you might see less shots, but that doesn’t mean he’s not getting as many touches. We count touches, not so much shots.”
Graves added 10 points for the Panthers, who have won five straight.
Draelon Burns’ 3-pointer got DePaul within 48-41 with 3:45 remaining, but Gray and Mike Cook answered for Pitt with four straight free throws.
The Panthers handed DePaul (10-7, 1-2) its first loss at home. Burns led the Blue Demons with 15 points and Wilson Chandler added nine points and eight rebounds.
DePaul shot just 34.5 percent and was 6-for-23 from 3-point range.
“We had to come in and come with a lot of energy. Our offense isn’t going to be there every night. But if we have defense, were going to be in every game,” said Gray.
Pittsburgh never trailed and led 28-18 at the half. A 9-2 run midway through the first period helped the Panthers pull away. Gray had a dunk and a jumper and Kendall made a jumper to give them a 20-11 lead.
Pitt held Sammy Mejia and Chandler to three points apiece in the first half. Mejia came in averaging 16.1 points and Chandler averaged 15.8 a game. Mejia finished with 10 points.
“We were terrible offensively. We weren’t moving the ball like we usually do, guys weren’t moving without the ball like they usually do and it showed,” said Mejia. “We played to their pace. We’re an uptempo team, we like to move the ball around real fast and make plays, for some reason tonight we kind of fell into the pace of their game.”