Niagara came into the Petersen Events Center on Monday night, burdened by a three-game losing streak and hampered by the absence of leading scorer and rebounder Marvin Prochet.
So, of course, Niagara (3-4) was the dominant team for much of the nonconference game on their way to a 71-70 victory.
Pitt had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but Xavier Johnson’s short jumper rolled around the rim and fell out.
Only moments previously, Pitt could have taken the lead or tied the score, but Jared Wilson-Frame missed consecutive shots — a 3-point attempt and a 2-pointer — in the final 23 seconds.
After Niagara’s Greg Kuakumensah hit two free throws to boost the lead to 71-67, Wilson-Frame hit a 3-pointer and Pitt forced a turnover to set up Johnson’s final shot.
Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, and Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney added 12 each. Kaleaf Tate scored 17 for Niagara of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Pitt (7-2) had a chance to match its victory total for all of last season, but the Panthers played out of control for much of the game and committed 17 turnovers by the halfway point of the second half and finished it with 18. Pitt came into the game averaging 12.6 per game.
Niagara center and North Catholic graduate Dominic Robb, who came into the game leading the nation in blocks per game (four), scored 12 points and added five blocks. He fouled out with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left to play.
Niagara’s largest lead was 64-52 with 7:10 left in the second half, but at that point Pitt rallied with a 9-0 burst to trim the advantage to 64-61. Johnson scored seven of the points, and Wilson-Frame added a layup.
Pitt trailed at halftime for only the second time in nine games, 34-33, when Niagara’s James Towns hit a jumper with four seconds left. That ended a stretch of less than four minutes when Niagara outscored the Panthers, 10-2.
Turnovers and shooting accuracy that was not up to Pitt’s season average allowed Niagara to keep the score close. Pitt shot only 41.4 percent after coming into the game shooting 48.2. Ten turnovers — one every other minute — gave coach Jeff Capel plenty to discuss with his team in the locker room.
Pitt’s lead was never greater than seven points in the first half, but a few players had their moments.
Johnson hit two 3-pointers in a span of 58 seconds, and two slick passes by Sidy N’Dir set up backup center Terrell Brown for dunks on consecutive plays near the end of the half.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.