PITTSBURGH (AP)—A few days ago, nobody who follows the Big East could have possibly predicted this.
Rutgers—yes, Rutgers, the worst team in the conference nearly all season— beating ranked and resilient Pittsburgh, and on the road? C’mon, get real.
How’s this for reality, even if the 13th-ranked Panthers still don’t believe it: Rutgers 77, Pittsburgh 64.
Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn led a decisive second-half run and the Scarlet Knights pulled off their second consecutive Top 25 upset by stunning the Panthers on Saturday night—the first time in school history they have beaten such a highly ranked team on the road.
“It’s a miracle,” said J.R. Inman, who scored 12 points. “It’s a dream come true. We’re starting to establish ourselves as a program, coming to the Zoo and winning. It’s amazing.”
The loss was only the eighth in Pitt’s 100 games at the Petersen Events Center, where the student body—known as the Oakland Zoo—rims the court and provides Pitt with a substantial home-court edge. The 13-point margin tied for Pitt’s worst loss at the Petersen Center, matching one to Louisville last season.
“They just outplayed us, and that usually doesn’t happen in our gym,” Pitt’s Keith Benjamin said.
Chandler scored 18 points and Coburn had 17 while leading a game-altering 20-2 run in the second half as Rutgers (10-11, 2-6) handed Pitt (16-4, 4-3) its biggest upset loss in conference play in Jamie Dixon’s five seasons as coach.
Pitt was 11-0 at home this season and had won its last 13 there. The Panthers had beaten Rutgers eight straight times overall and seven in a row in Pittsburgh since 1996.
“We usually find ways to win,” said Dixon, whose team had won four of its previous five despite being without two key starters. “We didn’t find a way, and that’s probably the most disappointing thing. This team (Rutgers) is better than they were earlier this year.”
Rutgers, which had lost its last 11 road games against ranked opponents and had beaten only winless New Jersey Tech in eight away games this season, followed up its 80-68 victory over No. 18 Villanova on Wednesday night. The only other time in school history the Knights won successive games against ranked teams was in 2001-02, when they defeated Connecticut and Syracuse.
“I’m sure people may not understand this—a 9-11 team beating the No. 13 team on their court,” Inman said. “Teams don’t do that. But it proves you can’t underestimate anybody in the Big East.”
Freshman Gilbert Brown had 16 points and classmate DeJuan Blair added 14 for Pittsburgh, which led 18-10 early and looked to be pulling away, only to have the Knights go on their first pivotal run, 14-2, to take a 24-20 lead.
The Panthers came back to end the first half with a 7-0 run and again looked to be in control while going up 47-38 on Brown’s basket with 13:32 remaining. But they had only one field goal over the next 8 minutes as Coburn hit a 3-pointer and made two free throws, Chandler had two important baskets and Byron Joynes twice had key tap-ins during the 20-2 run.
Jaron Griffin and Joynes had 10 points each for the Knights, who were 9-of-14 from 3-point range despite being the Big East’s worst team beyond the arc going into the game.
Rutgers lost its first six conference games, averaging only 48.9 points in the first five.
“But we’re a good team and we knew it,” Joynes said. “There just have been certain things we didn’t do to finish off games. But we stayed together, we had a good game plan and we stayed with the game plan.”
Finally winning in the conference against Villanova may have been what the Knights needed to find themselves. They repeatedly frustrated Pitt offensively in the second half, when the Panthers clearly missed injured point guard Levance Fields’ floor presence.
The Panthers had no answer after halftime for Rutgers’ 2-3 zone defense, repeatedly throwing up low-percentage shots that missed and weren’t rebounded or failing to drive to the basket when there were open lanes.
“We didn’t score against the zone, but we didn’t score against their man-to-man defense, either,” Dixon said.
Sam Young, coming off a 28-point game against St. John’s and averaging 20.6 points in his last seven games, was held to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“We played zone for a few possessions and took them out of their rhythm,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “We played man for a few possessions and took them out of their rhythm. We threw junk at them for a few possessions and took them out of their rhythm.”
Pitt missed 21 of its first 26 shots of the second half after going 17-of-36 in the first half and ended 10-of-34 (29.4 percent) in the second half. Pitt also was outrebounded 38-35—29-13 in the second half.
Pitt began the season 10-0, but is only 5-3 without Fields, who is out indefinitely with a broken left foot, and 5-4 without small forward Mike Cook, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in a Dec. 20 victory over Duke.