Panthers fall to Hawaii in game they were expected to win
WAILUKU, Hawaii – It was a great early-season challenge for Pitt’s younger players in a game they were expected to win.
The Panthers, however, fell to Hawaii, 74-70, before 1,203 fans early Saturday morning at War Memorial Gym in what could only be labeled an upset.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that fans didn’t storm the court after the game.
Playing in a hot, cramped gymnasium with no air conditioning, the Panthers (2-1) were pushed to the limit physically and emotionally by an underdog opponent with something to prove.
“It’s what we expected,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, a former Hawaii assistant. “We needed to handle it better. They came out hungry.”
Pitt led only briefly in the second half. Hawaii never trailed following Mike Thomas’ emphatic dunk that made it 62-60 with 6:45 to play.
Sophomore guard Chris Jones led three Pitt players in double figures with a career-high 19 points. Jones made 5-of-8 3-pointers.
Sophomore forward Michael Young scored 13 points with a team-high nine rebounds and junior point guard James Robinson added 12 points and six assists for the Panthers.
Hawaii (4-1) may play in the Big West and feature a lineup of no-star players, but the Rainbows – fueled by their raucous and energetic fans – gave the Panthers a night to forget.
Hawaii led 40-36 at intermission. The Rainbows placed two players in double figures, led by freshman Isaac Fleming’s 15 points, and shot a scalding 56.7 percent from the field in the first half and 52.9 percent overall.
“Our defense allowed them to feel confident,” said Dixon, who continues to stress that poor defense is his greatest concern. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on defensively.”
From the beginning, you could tell the game was special to Hawaii’s players, who engaged in pregame theatrics with the Panthers.
Hawaii’s starting backcourt featured players from Los Angeles and Oakland, so displaying confidence against a team from the ACC wouldn’t be a problem. Throughout the first half, Hawaii’s players yelled at Pitt’s bench following made baskets.
Pitt trailed early, 7-2, prompting Dixon to call timeout and switch to a quicker and smaller lineup featuring Josh Newkirk, Sheldon Jeter and Cameron Johnson. The early lineup change has become a common thread in the first three games.
It helped the Panthers recover and take a 23-13 lead, as they spread the floor and created open looks for Jones and Johnson, who were red-hot from the perimeter.
If the Panthers thought that Hawaii would just go away, they were wrong. In fact,Hawaii was only getting warmed up.
The Rainbows fed off the emotion provided by their home fans, reversing momentum courtesy of a 14-2 run and building a 37-32 lead.
Offensively, the Panthers went stagnant as Young sat with two fouls and was limited to 11 first-half minutes.
Jones led Pitt with 11 first-half points, Newkirk added 7 and Young 6.