Brandin Knight and Co. rough up Wagner 87-61Posted: Friday March 21, 2003 9:40 PM
Updated: Saturday March 22, 2003 1:15 AM
BOSTON (AP) -- Pittsburgh found a strange way to get ready for a thinner, shorter Wagner team. Its players nearly fought each other in practice.
On Friday night, the Panthers took that toughness out on the Seahawks, playing physical basketball in the first half before coasting to a 87-61 win in the first round of the Midwest Regional.
"They hit you every play, which is legal," Wagner coach Dereck Whittenburg said. "They bump you. They chuck you. They do it consistently."
It sure beats elbowing your own teammate.
"We have to officiate practice everyday. We almost had a fight in practice" Thursday, Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said. "We're very much more physical in practice than we are in games."
Whittenburg had seen that while watching tape of the Panthers' games. But watching it firsthand was an eye-opener.
"They sapped us of our energy," he said. "You get bumped and pushed for 20 minutes. It may not affect you, but in the second half it does."
Wagner, a huge underdog as the 15th-seeded team, stayed close for most of the first half before second-seeded Pittsburgh finished it with a 7-2 run for a 40-29 lead. The Panthers started the second half with an 18-3 surge that all but finished the Seahawks with nearly 14 minutes still to play.
As usual, the defense of the bigger, quicker Panthers was outstanding as they came up with 14 steals.
"Defense is what wins championships and it's what's going to win in this tournament," Howland said. "Our team is a very unselfish team."
Pittsburgh had eight players score at least eight points. Donatas Zavackas had 16, Carl Krauser 12, Jaron Brown 11 and Brandin Knight 10. The Panthers held a 44-28 advantage in the paint.
"We definitely had a size advantage and we tried to exploit it," said the 6-foot-8, 238-pound Zavackas.
Wagner (21-11) was led by Jermaine Hall, who scored 17 points, and Dedrick Dye, who had 15.
"I knew they were going to be physical," Hall said. "They played in the Big East and they won the Big East (tournament). You have to be physical to win the Big East."
In Sunday's second round, Pittsburgh (27-4) faces seventh-seeded Indiana for a chance to go to the round of 16 for the second straight year.
Whittenburg fell far short of his championship run as a player with North Carolina State in 1983 which produced one of the most memorable moments in tournament history.
In that championship game, his long shot didn't reach the rim, but Lorenzo Charles caught it and scored at the buzzer to beat Houston 54-52.
Now Whittenburg, the only coach in the tournament to have won it as a player, sees Pittsburgh as a championship contender.
"They have an awesome chance to go to the Final Four and win the championship," he said. "They understand who they are. They don't try a lot of tricky plays."
The Panthers held Wagner to 10 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half and were even better after that. In 16 of their 30 games, including the previous five, they held opponents to 60 points or less.
The huge difference between the teams was obvious before the game.
The Panthers entered the game 56-0 against teams from the Seahawks' league, the Northeast Conference. And Wagner, a small school in New York's tiniest borough of Staten Island, were 9-59 against teams from the Big East.
With the score 47-32, the Panthers went on an 11-0 run as Krauser converted a three-point play, Knight sank a layup, and Krauser and Knight each hit a 3-pointer.
Trailing 58-32, Wagner couldn't come close to a team that had
allowed an average of just 58.8 points per game before Friday, its
stingiest defense in at least 50 years. The lead grew to 33 before
Wagner made it more respectable.