*** Following the brutal 62-39 loss to Rutgers at Petersen Events Center, the Panthers needed, if nothing else, to play well and, for the most part, they did in the tough-fought 62-57 loss at Marquette on Saturday.
The Panthers led by nine points in the first half, by four at halftime and, save for a sloppy, turnover-reft span of the second half, they outplayed the nation’s No. 25 team in front of 18,000-plus fans at Bradley Center.
“We were right there,” Ashton Gibbs said. “If we just cut the stops and cut the turnovers, we’re going to win some games.”
Added Jamie Dixon, “We did some really good things. I’m proud of how hard we played, but we didn’t get it done. …Call it what you will, the losses are more than we’ve ever had. So obviously our kids are very disappointed because they played very hard, they played well, but we did not play well enough to win.”
*** Redshirt freshman Isaiah Epps made his first career start at point guard, Pitt’s third different starting lineup in four games. The move allowed Ashton Gibbs to return to his natural spot at shooting guard.
“I thought Isaiah played really well for us in his first start,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s been playing better the last couple of weeks. We’ve gotten more and more confidence in him in practice. He played very steady out there.”
Gibbs relished the break from running the point guard spot. The All-Big East guard had a career-high 29 points on 8 of 16 shooting, breaking his previous best of 27 against Connecticut in last year’s Big East Tournament loss.
Epps, who had played 54 minutes all season, went 0 for 2 from the field with two assists, two steals and one turnover in 26 minutes.
All told, the Plainfield, N.J., product has 13 assists and one turnover in 80 minutes of action this season. But he continues to struggle shooting the ball, going 1 for 14 from the field and missing all 11 of his 3-point attempts.
“I think I did good, but I can do better,” Epps said. “I think I kind of controlled the team today and made us run our offense correct. …I think I helped (Gibbs) a lot. That way he could have more energy to do his offensive stuff and have energy on the defensive side, too. My being the point guard and giving him the ball was good today.”
Gibbs gave high marks for Epps’ debut.
“He did really well,” Gibbs said. “I look forward to him playing more and more minutes. I think he really showed that he should be out there. He took advantage of his opportunity and now he’s got to keep running.”
*** Gibbs broke Jason Matthews’ record as the all-time 3-point shooter in Pitt history. Gibbs went 4 for 8 from 3-point range, giving him 261 for his career. Matthews made 259 from 1987-91.
Gibbs needs two points to pass Julius Page (1,512) into 14th place all-time on the Pitt scoring list.
*** After the game, Jamie Dixon addressed the no-call goal-tending on Gibbs’ first-half shot. Marquette’s Jamil Wilson appeared to goal-tend a Gibbs’ floater with 4:00 to play in the first half, but officials ruled it a blocked shot. Dixon argued vehemently during the timeout.
“They said it was a tough call,” he said.
When asked about the play in the post-game press conference, Dixon noticed a Marquette-based reporter shaking her head and asked her opinion of the play.
“What was it? You’re shaking your head,” Dixon said.
She replied, “I thought it was a goal-tend.”
*** Pitt committed 17 turnovers on Saturday, including five turnovers during a 13-0 Marquette run that turned a 41-36 lead into a 49-42 deficit that the Panthers would never overcome.
For all of Pitt’s problems during the six-game losing streak, sloppy ball-handling is the biggest culprit. Pitt is ranked 298th in the nation turnover margin. Nasir Robinson had a career-high seven turnovers and Lamar Patterson had four, all during a 3:25 span of the second half.
“Turnovers let them back into the game and they took advantage,” said Gibbs, who had one turnover in 37 minutes.
Said Dixon, “Turnovers has been a little bit of a bit of a problem, there’s no question about that. We’ve tried to get better at it. But it has really cost. The most consistent thing (during the losing streak) has been some turnovers.”
*** Dante Taylor picked up three fouls in four minutes and didn’t play the final 14:26 of the game. Cameron Wright played five minutes as his poor play recently seems to have him anchored on the bench.
*** J.J. Moore went 0 for 3 from 3-point range, continuing his recent shooting slump. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who is getting open looks, is shooting 11 percent (2 for 17) from behind the arc in the past six games.