Villanova goes quiet down the stretch in loss to Pitt

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Darrun Hilliard (4) had a game-high 14 points for Villanova in the loss. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Darrun Hilliard (4) had a game-high 14 points for Villanova in the loss. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

It’s tough to win without scoring.

A five-minute offensive drought at the end of the game doomed Villanova on Wednesday night, as Pittsburgh scored the final 15 points of the game in a 58-43 win  at the Pavilion.

Overall, the Panthers held the Wildcats to just 14-of-44 (31.8 percent) from the floor, forcing 18 turnovers and preventing the home team from getting an easy bucket for just about the entire 40 minutes.

“We couldn’t score. We just couldn’t score,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said afterwards.

Darrun Hilliard had 14 points for Villanova to lead all scorers, connecting on 4-of-7 overall and all three of his 3-point attempts as the only Wildcat who consistently produced on the offensive end. However, the sophomore jammed his thumb in the second half, limiting him to 11 minutes after the break.

“The second half, they did a good job (defensively) and he got into some foul trouble and then he hurt his thumb for a while, he was out for a little bit,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t have had him out if he didn’t hurt his thumb there, we needed his perimeter scoring.”

The Panthers were led by two guards off the bench, freshman Durand Johnson and junior Trey Zeigler, with 13 apiece. Starting center Steven Adams–a 7-foot freshman out of New Zealand who’s a projected first-round NBA draft pick–added nine points and senior guard Tray Woodall added eight.

Rebounding was also an issue for the Wildcats.

Pitt, who’s built a reputation under head coach Jamie Dixon as one of the nation’s better rebounding teams, entered the game 19th in the country in rebounding margin (+8.3) and ended up with a 39-27 advantage in that category. That included a 9-1 advantage on the offensive boards as the Panthers held the Wildcats without a single second-chance point.

“The way they defended, they stayed behind our bigs with their size, which made it difficult when we missed shots to get offensive rebounds,” Wright said. “They really dominated us on the glass.”

Zeigler, a transfer from Central Michigan, had six rebounds to lead the Panthers while four teammates added four-or-more as part of a true team effort. Daniel Ochefu had eight to pace the Wildcats, who got five apiece from three other players but just three others besides that.

“To get the numbers that we did on the glass was obviously gratifying for us and very important, a big factor,” Dixon said. “It was across the board, too–it wasn’t one guy, it was a team effort, and I can’t say enough about it. So hopefully we understand the value of rebounding and we’ll continue to be the team and the program that we’ve been, rebounding-wise

Pittsburgh entered the game one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the ball, but had some issues with that against Villanova’s press defense. Their 9.4 turnovers per game were the fifth fewest given up in the country and their assist/turnover ratio (1.99) was the best in the nation coming into the game. However, Villanova forced Pitt to cough it up a season-high-tying 15 times, including five from Woodall and three from James Robinson, who entered the game first and third in the conference respectively in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“The only disappointment to me was some of the turnovers that we had,” Dixon said. “We had some uncharacteristic turnovers and we are one of the lowest, if not the lowest turnover team in the country so that’s something that we usually do well. That would be the one thing I would have liked to cleaned up.”

That 15th turnover was a steal by James Bell, who took it coast-to-coast for a layup that tied the game up at 43 with 5:13 remaining. Those would be Villanova’s last points.

The Wildcats missed their final six shots of the game, committing three turnovers during that run as the Panthers made four of their seven attempts from the floor and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line over that span.

“It was all about getting stops,” Zeigler said. “We knew we were struggling offensively in the first half, so in the second half we knew…we just had to keep getting stops and rebounding, and I think we did a good job of that.”

JayVaughn Pinkston would miss a pair of free-throws with 7.3 seconds remaining and the game well out of hand. He would finish with eight points on 2-of-6 while freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono struggled, hitting 2-of-10 overall (1-of-7 from three) for five points and turning it over six times against just two assists.

Villanova travels up to Providence on Saturday for a 4 p.m. game (PHL17) before turning home for a tough pair of home games at the Wells Fargo Center next week as No. 1 Louisville and No. 6 Syracuse come to Philadelphia.

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