TOUGH DEFENSE–St. John’s D’Angelo Harrison, left, fights for a loose ball with Pittsburgh’s Durand Johnson in the first half at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
by Jim O’Connell
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The word was Pittsburgh, a program known for tough practices over the years, had a week of tough practices following consecutive losses to ranked teams.
The 20th-ranked Panthers became the latest Pitt team to benefit from those tough practices, beating St. John’s 63-47 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
“We focus on losses a little more than wins, those are the ones people seem to remember,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We responded and we came out and we beat a really good team by 16 on their court. I think that says a lot of good things about our guys.”
Tray Woodall, one of two seniors on the roster, and redshirt junior Lamar Patterson have been through these rough practices before. When they were asked about the latest stretch of tough ways to kill days before the next game, both gave that small, knowing smile before talking.
“We had a lot of hard practices,” Patterson said. “Coach got after us and we should expect us with the way we played the last two games. Rebounding was the main focus but those practices got us ready for today.”
The losses to Marquette and Notre Dame, the latter of which has already been entered as a training tape for what not to do on offense, were no longer the topic of conversation. The latest win was.
Woodall scored a season-high 25 points, including two huge 3-pointers in the second half, and Patterson had 11 points for the Panthers (21-7, 9-6 Big East), who have won five of their past seven road games.
Woodall was 8 of 14 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and didn’t have a turnover despite handling the ball most of the time.
“He was terrific in every way,” Dixon said. “I think every shot he took was a great shot. He handled the ball well and he played good defense.”
The game was basically decided by the teams’ leading scorers: Woodall, who came in averaging 10.9 points per game, and D’Angelo Harrison of the Red Storm, the Big East’s No. 3 scorer with an 18.3 average, who finished with six points on 1-of-12 shooting.
Harrison didn’t sound concerned about the shooting.
“It was really nothing to worry about,” Harrison said. “You’re always the next shot from being hot. It was one of those nights.
“If we had converted some of the shots we usually make it would have been a different ballgame. You credit Pittsburgh and their team. They capitalized on our misses and we turned the ball over. Just missing shots and careless turnovers. We take care of that and we’ll be fine.”
JaKarr Sampson had 14 points and Phil Greene added 11 for the Red Storm (16-11, 8-7), who have lost three of four overall and eight of the past nine games against Pittsburgh.
The Red Storm had three turnovers in the first half. They matched that figure in the opening 4:10 of the second half and finished with nine — in the second half. The Panthers finished with a 17-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
“I thought we took care of the ball well in the first half and that allowed us to be competitive,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “We held our own on the boards in both halves, but the combination of the nine turnovers and the 17 points off those turnovers led to a 16-point game.”
The teams came in tied for seventh in the 15-team league. The top eight finishers get a bye to the second round, a day of rest in a tournament that can stretch to five days for a team that doesn’t get that opening bye.
Sir’Dominic Pointer made two free throws 2 1-2 minutes into the second half to give the Red Storm a 33-32 lead, just their second of the game.
Woodall, a native of Brooklyn who has spent his senior season climbing Pitt’s career statistics lists, hit a 3-pointer with 17:08 to play to give the Panthers the lead for good. He scored the first eight points of a 10-2 run that gave Pitt a 42-35 lead with 15:13 left.
The Red Storm, despite Harrison’s shooting woes, were still in it when Chris Obekpa made two free throws to make it 42-39 with 12:08 to play.
The Panthers went on a 13-2 run from there and the basket that silenced the crowd at Madison Square Garden was a long 3 by Woodall that made it 53-41 with 6:29 to go.
St. John’s point guard Jamal Branch returned after missing four games with a sprained MCL in his left knee. He entered the game with 8 minutes left in the first half, playing for 2 minutes. He came into the game again with 9 minutes to play and saw just a minute. Branch, who missed two shots and had one turnover, came in averaging 8.3 points and 2.5 assists.