WASHINGTON — Matt Dickey chased down a loose ball and fed J.P. Primm for a fast break, cutting UNC Asheville's deficit to six with 15:22 to play and prompting Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon to call one of those need-to-stop-the-momentum timeouts.
When it's No. 16 vs. No. 1, that's about as good as it usually gets.
The rest was familiar. The top seed went on a run, outscoring the bottom seed by 16 points to the finish the game. The Panthers kept the perfect 1-vs.-16 mark in the NCAA tournament firmly intact Thursday, pulling away to beat the Bulldogs 74-51.
"In the first half we played really poorly, careless with the ball," said Pitt's Gary McGhee, who had seven points and 11 rebounds. "We didn't move the ball around. We didn't get the loose balls. But then in the second half, we turned it up."
The Panthers (28-5) advanced to play another set of Bulldogs — No. 8 seed and last year's tournament runner-up Butler — on Saturday. It beat Old Dominion in the day's opening game at the Verizon Center.
UNC Asheville (20-14) had earned a little bit more pub than the usual No. 16 seed. Dickey became a YouTube favorite with a steal-and-shoot buzzer-beater late in the regular season, and he hit the 3-pointer that forced overtime in the win over Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday in a Dayton play-in game.
Now the whirlwind journey has finally come to an end for coach Eddie Biedenbach and his players, but at least they can say they made a game of it.
"We went in at halftime down five, and that's where we wanted to be," Dickey said. "Make sure that it was still a game. In the second half we missed a couple shots and they hit a couple of 3s."
It wasn't quite that simple. Along the way, the Panthers showed the scrappy Big South champions what physical Big East basketball is all about, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 50-27 to make up for a so-so shooting game by nearly everyone but Ashton Gibbs.
He scored 20 of his 26 points after halftime, went 4 for 5 from 3-point range in the second half and scored seven points in the 13-5 run that eventually put the game away. Gibbs finished two points off his career high, set in a quarterfinal loss to UConn in the Big East tournament.
Gibbs has been getting some flak for guaranteeing the Final Four after the UConn loss, but he's toned down the rhetoric now that he's at the NCAAs.
His take on Thursday: "We've just got to take one game at a time."
Dickey finished with 21 points but was only 2 for 9 from 3-point range. He had a four-point play in the first half and made a nice bank shot on a drive into the paint to cut Pitt's lead to 30-25 at the break. Still, he had to feel claustrophobic around the Panthers, who double-teamed him on defense while continuing their rebounding dominance on the offensive end.
Pitt finished with nearly as many offensive rebounds (22) as UNC Asheville had total (27). The Bulldogs were only 3 for 19 from 3-point range
"Being in the right place at the right time, anticipating what they're trying to do offensively, we did a good job," Dixon said. "We had a good feel for what they were going to do. They're very good, but I think it was more our depth that wore them down at times."
With no starter taller than 6-foot-5, UNC Asheville proved to be a scrappy opponent. The Bulldogs were chasing down loose balls and blocking shots in the opening minutes before a 1-for-10 cold spell turned into a 16-2 run and 23-11 lead for the Panthers.
Dickey finally hit a basket — the 3-pointer that drew a foul and turned into a four-point play — and UNC Asheville slowly worked its way back.
Then came the inevitable run, and when Gibbs and Gilbert Brown hit back-to-back 3s to put the Panthers ahead by 17, the game was all but over.
"It was a difficult game for us," Biedenbach said, "but we battled them well in the first half. We just needed to play better."
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