Having earned most of its wins in decisive fashion, Pittsburgh is still learning how to play in close games.
The 20th-ranked Panthers had a chance to upset one of the nation's remaining unbeaten teams last time out but couldn't hold on to a late lead. They might be in for another tight contest Tuesday night against new ACC rival Clemson, possibly the nation's best defensive squad.
Pitt (16-2, 4-1) has earned its wins by an average of 18.3 points - only two by fewer than 12 - and took its first three conference games by an average of 15.7 before an 81-74 victory at Georgia Tech last Tuesday. The Panthers had a late double-digit lead cut to four points with 29 seconds left, but the Yellow Jackets missed a pair of 3-pointers.
Pitt wasn't as fortunate at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday and had a six-game win streak snapped with a 59-54 defeat. The Panthers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to take a three-point lead with 4:41 to go, but they were outscored 10-2 after that.
"We had chances," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We should have won."
His team had a 16-4 advantage in offensive rebounds and 19-2 on second-chance points but shot 38.3 percent, 10.5 below its previously ACC-best season mark. Leading scorer Lamar Patterson (17.6 points per game) had a team-best 18 points but missed a pair of late 3-pointers.
"We had a three-point lead. We had the ball, and we didn't do the things we needed to do," Dixon said. "We didn't play great against Georgia Tech, and it carried a little over into today."
The Panthers next face a Clemson team that's won three in a row after a 5-4 stretch and is off to its best ACC start in 17 seasons. The win streak began with a 72-59 upset of then-No. 16 Duke on Jan. 11 in its only matchup with a ranked foe.
The Tigers (13-4, 4-1) followed with a 56-49 victory at Virginia Tech on Wednesday, going 2-0 in ACC road games after losing their only two in non-conference play. The Tigers beat Wake Forest 61-53 on Saturday with another strong defensive effort, recording 10 blocks and limiting the Demon Deacons to 36.2 percent shooting.
That's also Clemson's season average defensively - third-best nationally - and no Division I team is giving up fewer points per game at 53.5. That defense has played a large role in the program's best conference start since going 5-0 in 1996-97.
"We're off to a good start and we're playing well. But it's a long distance race and we have some tough games coming up with five of our next six games on the road," coach Brad Brownell said. "But we've been opportunistic and found ways to win some close games. We're still growing and improving as a team but I'm certainly proud of our guys."
Because of their defensive prowess, the Tigers haven't needed too much scoring en route to matching their win total from last season. They're near the bottom of the ACC with 66.0 points per game, and K.J. McDaniels (16.7 ppg) is the only player averaging more than 10. McDaniels also leads Clemson with 7.2 rebounds per contest and had a career-high 12 in the win over Wake Forest.
The Panthers are just outside the nation's top 10 defensive teams with 60.1 points allowed per game.
Pitt won its only previous meeting with Clemson on Dec. 29, 1958, in Charlotte.