Dec. 23, 2011
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Travon Woodall's groin and abdominal injuries can't heal fast enough for No. 15 Pittsburgh.
With their point guard and unquestioned floor leader on the shelf for at least another week, the Panthers bobbled their way to a shocking 59-54 loss to Wagner on Friday night.
Pitt saw its nine-game winning streak end thanks to 40 percent shooting, 18 turnovers and a seeming unwillingness to scrap with the smaller, quicker Seahawks.
"I can't really point to a lot of things that we did well," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It was disappointing in every way."
Ashton Gibbs led the Panthers (11-2) with 14 points but made just 5 of 16 shots and turned it over four times while filling in for Woodall. The ballhandling burden appears to be wearing on the preseason Big East Player of the Year, who is shooting just 36 percent from the field since Woodall went down.
The Panthers miss Woodall's leadership, and the Seahawks (8-3) made Pitt pay while beating a ranked team for the first time in 33 years.
"We felt like them not having Travon would be a big advantage for us," Wagner coach Danny Hurley said. "They were kind of laboring getting the ball up the court. Even on possessions where we weren't really rattling them, we wanted them to have a short clock."
Latif Rivers scored all 18 of his points in the second half - including six free throws in the final minute - as the Seahawks became the first Northeastern Conference school to beat the Panthers. Pitt came in 70-0 all-time against NEC foes, but Wagner never backed down.
"We've got good players, we practice really hard and I think our guys feel like they deserve wins like this and moments like this," Hurley said.
Wagner, which went 5-26 the season before Hurley arrived, certainly played like it. The Panthers, who lost to a nonconference foe at home for the second time in five weeks, did not.
"It's definitely not the way we want to play," Dixon said. "We definitely took a step backwards."
Pitt has been nearly unbeatable in nonconference games since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002. The Panthers had lost just one non-Big East game in the arena's first nine seasons. Now they have dropped two in a little over a month.
Long Beach State raced past Pitt 86-76 on Nov. 16, blistering the Panthers with a dizzying uptempo attack.
Wagner went the opposite way, working the shot clock and spreading the floor while trying to wear down Pitt's depleted backcourt.
"We got impatient with the ball and just was rushing things and not playing our game," Pitt forward Lamar Patterson said.
Hurley, along with his brother and assistant coach Bobby - who starred at Duke 20 years ago - has the tiny Staten Island, N.Y. school rapidly rising to respectability thanks to an upgraded roster and newfound confidence.
The Seahawks played fearlessly, not panicking after the Panthers built a 9-2 lead.
Kenneth Ortiz and Tyler Murray outplayed backcourt counterparts Gibbs and Cameron Wright, with Ortiz getting out in transition to capitalize on sloppy ballhandling by the Panthers.
Gibbs' shot wasn't much better. He missed all seven of his field goals in the first half. Ortiz had no such issues, going a perfect 5 of 5 to help Wagner take a 29-25 halftime lead, the first time the Panthers have trailed at the half since the loss to Long Beach State.
And Wagner - just like the 49ers - proved the lead wasn't a fluke.
Rivers shook of a rough first half to score seven quick points as the Seahawks went ahead 44-32. Pitt clamped down defensively but couldn't take advantage at the other end of the court.
Gibbs put together a brief hot streak to get the Panthers back in it, but every time Pitt appeared ready to take control, Wagner would respond with a big shot.
Pitt drew as close as three points twice in the final 36 seconds but couldn't get over the top. Rivers hit six straight free throws down the stretch and the Seahawks poured onto the court in celebration after the program's biggest victory in more than three decades.
"I said to the coaches and I'll say to the players to make sure you have your phones charged, because you're going to get a lot of texts and a lot of calls," Hurley said.
Meanwhile, the Panthers search for answers.
The defending Big East regular season champions open conference play at Notre Dame next Tuesday. They hoped to come in on a high. Instead, they're left wondering how to get back on track.
"It's something we can grow from," Patterson said. "We've got to learn from our mistakes today."