KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s basketball Volunteers have six days until their next game.
They likely will spend most of their practice hours during that time working on box-out drills.
Pittsburgh converted 17 offensive rebounds into 18 crucial second-chance points Saturday evening as the 17th-ranked Panthers earned a 61-56 win over the Vols before a crowd of 17,249 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We did everything right but keep them off the offensive glass,” said UT forward Kenny Hall, who scored eight points and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Vols (3-4) held the Panthers to 42 percent shooting and limited guard Ashton Gibbs, a two-time All-Big East selection, to 16 points on 21 shots. But Pitt (6-1) grabbed key rebounds for easy points in a game that was defensive and physical.
The 6-foot-5 Nasir Robinson did the most damage with 16 points and 12 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end.
“It’s very disappointing,” UT guard Cameron Tatum said. “You work that hard the whole 35 seconds on the shot clock to make them put up a tough shot, then not to get the rebound and they get a putback or get a wide-open shot. You work too hard to get those stops. That’s something we work hard on in practice every day. It’s a killer.”
The Vols allowed 17 offensive rebounds in their last loss to Oakland partly because of fatigue from playing shortly after returning from a trip to the Maui Invitational, but first-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin was disappointed in his team’s rebounding Saturday.
“In a nutshell the key to the game was offensive rebounds,” he said. “Pitt did a good job of attacking the glass, and we’ve got to do a better job in that area. If you want to say fatigue and legs were a problem [at Oakland], OK, I’ll buy that, but in this game ... the way we gave them up, it was really just a case where we were standing right next to our man and he was going up and getting the ball.”
Tatum, a senior who scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, made a 3-pointer to give UT a 26-20 edge late in the first half. The Vols went scoreless the last 4:22 before halftime, and Pitt went ahead with a 7-0 run.
The Panthers scored three consecutive easy baskets in spurting to a 40-35 lead midway through the second half.
After UT closed to within a point a few minutes later, Gibbs, whom Martin coached as part of the U.S. team at the World University Games in August, poured in seven straight points.
With less than two minutes left, Lamar Patterson answered Tatum’s 3-pointer with a trey from the corner to make it 58-50 and seemingly put the game away. The Panthers missed on the front ends of a pair of one-and-one opportunities at the free-throw line, though, and Trae Golden’s 3-pointer made it 58-56 with 11.6 seconds left.
Pitt’s Dante Taylor missed another front end, but Gibbs tied up Golden with 3.6 seconds left. The possession arrow gave the ball to Pitt, and John Johnson’s three-point play sealed the win.
Patterson, Johnson and Taylor scored eight points apiece for Pitt, which was missing the injured Tray Woodall, the point guard who’s averaged 14 points and eight assists this season.
“I think the advantage for those guys,” Martin said, “was now they became bigger on the wings as opposed to having Ashton at the 2 and Woodall at the 1. You’ve got 6-1, 6-2 guys, but now you go with Ashton at the point and you’ve got 6-6, 6-7 on your wings. Now they’re crashing the glass.”
Golden and Jeronne Maymon scored 12 points each, though Maymon, the Vols’ leading rebounder, didn’t grab his first missed shot until late in the game. The Vols have played some quality teams tough early on this season, but they don’t have any wins to show for it.
“I don’t mind coming up short if we’re getting better,” Martin said. “I’m fine with that because this is a process in order to get better. I thought we did a really good job defending. That’s what I’m used to seeing.”
The Vols won’t get another shot at a quality win until January, when the schedule holds Memphis, Connecticut, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and two games against top-ranked Kentucky.
“These are the types of games we’ve got to finish in order to become a good team and win big ballgames,” Tatum said. “That’s what good teams do. You don’t get satisfied until you get a win. Nobody ever remembers, ‘Good job for coming close.’
“We’ve got to start putting wins on the board, and we’ve got to start doing a better job of closing out games.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...