No. 23 Pitt pulls away from South Florida in second half

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Tray Woodall scored 14 points to lead No. 23 Pitt past South Florida 64-44 Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center. Reserve center Dante Taylor added 12 points for the Panthers (22-7, 10-6), who moved to within a half game of idle Notre Dame in the Big East Conference standings.

The Panthers still have an outside shot at landing one of the top four spots in the conference and securing a double bye at the Big East tournament. They also reached another milestone in their final season in the Big East, winning 10 conference games for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons. No other team in the league has done that.

For South Florida (10-17, 1-14), it was a 10th consecutive loss in a disappointing season that is ending badly. The past six losses have been by double digits. Victor Rudd led the Bulls with 16 points, but he only had seven points after halftime.

Taylor also registered 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. He also reached double figures for the first time in 19 games.

"It feels real good," Taylor said. "I've been working hard these last few weeks in practice. With this being the second-to-last home game, I just tried to come out and play hard."

Pitt, the top defensive team in the Big East, continued its impressive run. It was the 12th time in 29 games that its opponent failed to reach 50 points.

That the Panthers accomplished the feat Wednesday night should not have come as a surprise, though. South Florida, which came into the game 330th among 345 Division I team in scoring, failed to reach 50 points for the seventh time in conference play.

"We had a good start but we just couldn't sustain it," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "We had a hard time finishing plays. We couldn't get anything going offensively. We've been struggling all year long, but their defense was good, too. Their size and physicality creates some problems, too. They have a good team and a team that can do some damage going forward."

One of the biggest keys for Pitt was limiting Bulls point guard Anthony Collins, who scored 38 points in two games against the Panthers last season. Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson guarded Collins and held him to six points on 2-for-8 shooting.

"His defense is key for us," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's still figuring things out and not understanding what I'm saying all the time. The defending part of it, he has picked up and has taken it to a high level, which is rare for a freshman. He really takes pride in what he's doing defensively."

Pitt led 26-25 at halftime, but the Panthers quickly gained control of the contest early in the second half. They went on a 16-0 run and led 44-30 with 9:46 remaining after South Florida took a 30-28 lead four minutes into the second half.

Dixon had his players freelance for the final 16 minutes of the game because his sets were not very effective against the Bulls.

"It was just, 'Play basketball,'" Dixon said. "More of a freelance-type thing. Just getting the ball moved from one side to the other. I just wanted them to play basketball. I don't know if they felt confident in that initially. They saw the results and felt better about it. I thought we were too stationary and too easy to guard. It's something we have done and can use going forward."

South Florida went 8:31 without a basket before Victor Rudd dunked with 7:35 remaining. He was the only South Florida player to make a basket in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

NOTES: It was the final scheduled game in the series between the two schools because Pitt is moving to the ACC next season. The Panthers took six of nine games since the Bulls joined the Big East in 2006. ... If Pitt wins the final two games of the regular season against Villanova (at home) and DePaul (on the road), the Panthers will have seven more conference victories than last season for their biggest one-season turnaround since joining the league in 1982. The best previous turnaround was six when the Panthers went from seven wins to 13 from 2000-01 to 2001-02. ... Pitt has won 36 of the past 46 home games against Big East foes.
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