PITTSBURGH (AP)—At the same point of the game in which Pitt uncharacteristically fell apart in a rare home-court defeat four days before, the Panthers showed why they’ve stayed nationally ranked despite being without two key starters.
Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs led a game-changing, second-half rally in which Pittsburgh turned a one-point deficit into an 18-point lead and the No. 18 Panthers bounced back to beat Villanova 69-57 on Wednesday night.
Young scored 15 points and finished off the pivotal 22-3 run that began with 13 minutes remaining by blocking Corey Stokes’ outside jumper, grabbing the ball and scoring on a breakaway dunk while being fouled. Young completed the three-point play to make it 59-41, then celebrated by puffing out his chest and pointing at himself as if to say, “Hey, did you see that?”
Young, who is averaging 18 points but was held to 11 by Rutgers, felt it was a play worthy of some showing off.
“The block and the three-point play summed it up,” Young said. “I felt I was real energetic after that. With that block, I felt like I was coming out of my slump.”
Scottie Reynolds scored 26 points, but Villanova (13-6, 3-5 Big East)— ranked 19th when it beat Pitt 64-63 at home on Jan. 6—lost its third in a row. The streak is the Wildcats’ longest since they dropped five straight late in the 2003-04 season. They have lost four of six overall.
Pitt (17-4, 5-3) was coming off a 77-64 defeat to Rutgers on Saturday in which it was outscored by 20 in the second half. They led by nine with 13 minutes to play in that one, only to fall apart in their ninth loss in 101 games at the Petersen Events Center.
“They were a hungry team tonight,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Any time we made a run, they had an answer and those guys hit some big shots.”
The Panthers have lost consecutive home games at the Petersen Center only twice, the last time coming three years ago.
“Definitely, we didn’t want to fall in and do what we did the other day,” Pitt’s Keith Benjamin said.
Biggs came off the bench for 14 points and freshman DeJuan Blair had 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Panthers, who improved to 6-3 without the injured Levance Fields (broken foot) and Mike Cook (knee).
“We’re right there as far as the conference goes,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Through all that it’s pretty remarkable and I’m proud of our guys. I think it’s a place no one thought we would be at this point.”
Villanova, which has lost six in a row in Pittsburgh, made only one of its first 12 shots and four of its first 22 while falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half. But Reynolds scored the last seven points of a 9-0 run that gave Villanova its only lead at 38-37 with 13:38 to play.
The Wildcats, 1-4 in Big East road games, missed a chance to build on the lead when Reynolds missed a free throw that would have completed a three-point play and extended the run to 10 points and Dwayne Anderson couldn’t convert two free throws the next time down.
“We missed a lot of open shots, and you can’t do that against a good team on the road,” Wright said.
Pitt immediately went on the pivotal run to take the 59-41 lead with 4:33 remaining, with Biggs starting the comeback by scoring from the inside, Ronald Ramon hitting a 3 and Gilbert Brown and Young scoring on drives to the basket. Ramon added 10 points as Pitt went 24-of-35 from the foul line after shooting only six free throws against Rutgers.
Both teams shot poorly early on—the teams were a combined 0-for-10 until Benjamin hit a 3 for the first points of the game—but that was a typical start in a ‘Nova-Pitt series that has featured a succession of relatively low-scoring, physical and tight games. The winning team has scored between 64 and 69 points in the series’ last five games.
The Panthers shot much better in the second half (52.4 percent) than they did in the first (34.6) and held a 43-32 rebounding edge—a point of emphasis in practice after Rutgers outrebounded them 29-13 in the final 20 minutes.
Villanova shot 36.5 percent (23-of-63) while losing for only the third time in the 12 games Reynolds has scored 15 points or more.
“It’s a bad game, but you’ve got to come back the next day,” Reynolds said. “You can’t get down about losses. If you keep dwelling on the past, you’ll never (be focused) on the present.”