PITTSBURGH – Struggling mightily on offense against what should have been an overmatched opponent, No. 23 Pittsburgh was finally turned loose.
For the first time in years, players said, coach Jamie Dixon allowed them to “freelance.”
The result was a big second half and a 20-point win.
Tray Woodall scored 14 points and Pitt beat South Florida, 64-44, Wednesday night to hand the struggling Bulls their 10th consecutive loss.
Dante Taylor had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers (10-6 Big East, 22-7), who were trailing when they began a 16-0 run with Lamar Patterson’s jumper 4:42 into the second half.
“Coach started giving us free range to go out and just play,” Woodall said, complimenting Dixon’s adjustment after Pitt shot 26.9 percent in the first half. “He wasn’t calling out any plays – it was, ‘Just go out and play basketball.’ Some guys have never probably heard that from him this year. Go out and play, not call any sets.”
Pitt has won nine of 12, remaining in the middle of the race for a double-bye in next month’s conference tournament.
J.J. Moore added nine points, and 10 players scored in all for the balanced Panthers.
Victor Rudd had 16 points to lead the Bulls, who have lost 14 of 15.
The Big East’s leader in scoring defense, Pitt held South Florida (1-14, 10-17) to 31.9 percent shooting. The conference’s worst scoring offense was held to 50 points or fewer for the eighth time in 15 Big East games. The Panthers have allowed 50 or fewer 10 times this season.
“Our team got off to a good start, but we just couldn’t sustain it,” Bulls coach Stan Heath said. “We got it for about 28 minutes, close to 30 minutes – and then it seemed like we had a hard time finishing plays and we just couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
The teams combined to shoot 32.6 percent (14 for 43) in the first half but went divergent directions in the second half. South Florida missed 10 of its first 11 shots after halftime; Pitt made seven of its first 10.
“I thought we had a great performance from 10 guys,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t our best game, but South Florida’s patience hindered us in the first half. I thought we responded well in the second half.”
After Patterson finished a fast break for the first points of the second half to give Pitt a 28-25 lead, South Florida went on a 5-0 run to take its final lead. The Panthers responded by scoring the next 16 points – the first five field goals coming from five different players.
Baylor holds off West Virginia: Three Baylor Bears scored double figures Wednesday as they edged West Virginia, 65-62, to snap a three-game losing string and keep hopes alive of an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
The Bears (8-7 Big 12, 17-11) had lost three in a row and six of their past eight. On top of that, coming in, they led West Virginia (6-9, 13-15) by just one game for sixth place in the league.
West Virginia has lost three in a row and is in danger of its first losing season since former coach John Beilein’s first year in 2002-03. That group finished 14-15. The Mountaineers have gone to five straight NCAA tournaments under coach Bob Huggins.
Baylor was led by Isaiah Austin’s 21 points, Pierre Jackson added 15 and A.J. Walton 10 before fouling out.
Eron Harris scored a career-high 25 points for the Mountaineers. Kevin Noreen had 10.