Pittsburgh tops Florida Gulf Coast 71-54
PITTSBURGH (AP) Scattered and lost a month ago, Pittsburgh is starting to look like, well, Pittsburgh.
A little defense. Unselfish passing. Few turnovers and fewer missed opportunities. While coach Jamie Dixon acknowledges his team is far from a finished product after beating Florida Gulf Coast University 71-54 on Tuesday night for its sixth straight win, the Panthers are considerably closer than they were while stumbling to three losses in their first seven games with senior guard Cameron Wright recovering from a foot injury.
A perfect December has Pitt rolling into ACC play.
''I still think we can play better, everybody sees that,'' Dixon said. ''But we took care of business down the stretch. We're 6-0 in the six games since Cameron came back. Most teams don't miss their most experienced player at the start of the year like we did with Cam.''
Wright finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists and helped hound Florida Gulf Coast into 16 turnovers, including six by point guard Brett Comer. Michael Young led Pitt (10-3) with 16 points and six rebounds as the Panthers won their 200th game at the Petersen Events Center while extending their nonconference winning streak to 30 and counting.
''From game one to now I think we're a whole different defensive team,'' Young said ''We've improved a whole lot. It helped that we got Cam back defensively. Being young isn't an excuse for us.''
Not anymore. The Panthers never trailed and responded with a decisive 15-6 run midway through the second half after the Eagles had pulled within seven.
Julian DeBose led the Eagles with 12 points and Comer had 10 points and five assists. Florida Gulf Coast has lost three straight and four of five. The Eagles made just 1 of 7 3-pointers and struggled to stop Pitt in the second half. The Panthers shot 54 percent (28 of 52), the highest field goal percentage allowed by Florida Gulf Coast this season.
''It's tough, they really hit our bigs,'' coach Joe Dooley said. ''They got almost every rebound for a stretch, got two free throw offensive rebounds in a row. When you let rebounds and second-chance points, it's tough to win.''
The Eagles are the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Sun Conference but have slipped a bit following a hot start that included wins over Ohio and Massachusetts. Florida Gulf Coast's last three losses have all come on the road by double digits. It's a stretch Cooley hopes pays dividends in March.
''It's a tough stretch,'' Dooley said. ''I don't care where you're at. At Xavier, at Pitt. It helps us find some things we need to get better on, things we need to work at.''
The Panthers led 33-24 at the break before a mini-burst by the Eagles pulled Florida Gulf Coast within 39-32. Chris Jones started the game-turning run with a tip-in, Young followed with a lay-up. Josh Newkirk hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down. Ryan Luther put back a missed free throw and Wright shook loose for a jumper to make it 54-38. The Eagles would not get within single digits the rest of the way.
Florida Gulf Coast, dubbed ''Dunk City'' during its NCAA tournament run two years ago, recorded four dunks to run its season total to 36 but they came at a small cost. Comer turned it over twice on alley-oop passes that failed to connect. The senior also took a shot to the jaw early that had him checking his mouth to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be.
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles played their fourth straight game without senior guard Jamail Jones, who is serving a six-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Pittsburgh: Junior center Joseph Uchebo is back in his native Nigeria to be with his mother, who has fallen ill. Freshman forward Cameron Johnson missed his fifth straight game with a shoulder injury. Johnson, who is averaging 4.5 points per game, could be given a medical redshirt if the injury prevents him from returning in the next couple of weeks.
Florida Gulf Coast hosts Ave Maria on Friday.
Pittsburgh opens ACC play at N.C. State on Saturday.