NEWARK, N.J. (AP)—Pittsburgh’s latest win was far from being one of those classics you watch over and over.
“You’re talking about two good defensive teams nationally,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “Washington State is up there and people say we play pretty good defense and when there are good defensive teams you’re not going to look smooth.”
No. 4 Pittsburgh looked smooth enough to beat Washington State 57-43 on Saturday night in the championship game of the Legends Classic, and it looked really good as far as defense went.
The Panthers were especially like the team known for its ability to stop an opponent at the end of the game, holding the Cougars to three points over the final 4:59.
“They definitely toughened up on us, especially in the second half,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. “We had some looks, but we missed our shots. I also think we were pretty dog tired by the end of the game. I think we learned a lot about toughness. They didn’t allow us anything down the stretch. … They just defend everything at the rim and protected the paint. They’re men. It was like boys against men.”
Sam Young scored 15 points and Levance Fields added 14 for the Panthers (7-0), who were able to win despite shooting 35.4 percent from the field (17-of-48). They forced the Cougars (5-1) into 15 turnovers and turned them into 17 points, while Washington State was able to get just two points off the Panthers’ eight miscues.
“You know there are key possessions late that can shut the door on them and those are the ones that get that intensity and confidence going in your defense,” said Young, who had eight rebounds and was selected the tournament MVP.
Daven Harmeling had 12 points for Washington State, which had won 21 straight games against nonconference opponents dating to 2006-07.
DeJuan Blair had seven points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for the Panthers, who are off to a 7-0 start for the seventh straight season.
Fields struggled from the field, missing eight of his first 10 shots before hitting two straight attempts when the Cougars got within six with 4:59 to play.
The senior guard hit a jumper with 4:29 to go, then put the Panthers up 51-40 with his only 3-pointer of the game. Young made two free throws with 1:53 remaining to extend Pittsburgh’s lead to 13.
“Players don’t think about shots they missed,” Fields said, “I know I don’t because my teammates and coaches have confidence in me and I have the ball in my hands.”
Pittsburgh led 26-23 at halftime despite shooting just 33 percent from the field, while the Cougars hit 52.6 percent. The Panthers made two of nine shots from 3-point range in the opening half, but had eight offensive rebounds to just one for the Cougars, who had 10 turnovers in the first half.
“We settled for jump shots early and we said we didn’t want that,” Dixon said. “As the game went on, we went to the rim. The offense led to those opportunities down low.”
The Panthers, who are allowing 59 points per game, finished 20-of-27 from the line while Washington State took just four free throws, making three.
“We tried to get in there,” Bennett said, “we just bounced off bodies. That was a new level of physicality for us.
“When we have trouble scoring, it puts a lot of pressure on our defense and we just couldn’t stop them. They’re not going to wow you by playing over the rim, but they’re just tough. They’re an experienced, tough team and I hope our guys learned from it.”
Washington State came in allowing 41.2 points per game.
A dunk by Gilbert Brown capped an 11-0 run that gave Pittsburgh a 40-27 lead with 13:33 to go. Washington State got within six points twice, the last time at 46-40 on a 3 by Harmeling with 4:59 left, the Cougars’ only points until Harmeling hit another 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Pittsburgh has won 11 of its last 12 games in the New York-New Jersey area, which is home to four of its players.
“It’s great for guys to get home and play in front of their families and we had a lot of family there,” Dixon said.
The loss dropped Washington State to 1-72 against teams ranked in the top five, the only win against No. 4 Oregon State on Feb. 16, 1980.
Neither coach had ever lost a game in November as a head coach. Dixon improved to 31-0 in his six seasons at Pittsburgh, while Bennett dropped to 19-1 in his third season.
This was the first meeting between the schools.