No. 6 Pitt tuned up for its Big East opener against Connecticut with a 61-46 win over American on Wednesday night in coach Jamie Dixon’s 200th victory.
Dixon, who is 200-55 in seven-plus seasons at Pitt, became the 13th-fastest coach in NCAA Division I history to achieve the milestone. In the past 30 years, only three coaches, Mark Few (247), Roy Williams (252) and Denny Crum (254), have needed fewer games to reach the plateau.
Dixon’s 200th win at Pitt was a lot like the previous 199. The Panthers used a familiar recipe — strong defense, rebounding, balanced scoring and, for the first half, at least, few turnovers — to defeat American (7-5), the Patriot League pre-season favorite.
Brad Wanamaker had 19 points and six assists and Gilbert Brown added 15 points, five rebounds and four assists to lead Pitt (12-1), which plays host to No. 4 Connecticut on Monday.
Sophomore Dante Taylor had nine points and seven rebounds, and keyed a second-half run after American had cut Pitt’s 16-point halftime lead to seven with 16 minutes to play.
Pitt then used a second-half defensive surge to overcome hot-shooting Romanian forward Vlad Moldoveanu, who scored a game-high 23 points.
Pitt led 34-18 at halftime, but the Panthers got sloppy in the second half – after having only one turnover in the first half – and American went on an 11-2 run to pull to within 36-29.
American was down 47-39 and had a chance to cut the lead to five, but Steve Luptak’s on-target 3-pointer rattled out of the basket and Pitt went on a 9-0 run. Pitt held American scoreless for the next six-plus minutes and allowed only three field goals in the final 10 minutes, one of them a buzzer-beater, to move to 105-1 in its past 106 games against a non-conference opponent at Petersen Events Center.
The next home game will be significantly tougher. Connecticut, with victories over Michigan State and Kentucky in a two-day span in late November, has gone from unranked in the preseason to top-5 in the nation.