PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh's defense is back to where it
should be with the Big East Conference tournament only a month
away. The offense? That still needs a lot of work.
Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft wore down St. John's in the
second half with their size and strength and the Panthers (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) shook off a sloppy performance for a 55-44 victory Tuesday
The 6-foot-7 Troutman, averaging 19 points over his last seven
games, had 19 points and the 6-10 Taft had eight of his 12 points
in the second half to help the Panthers (16-4, 6-3) avoid a second
consecutive surprise loss to St. John's.
St. John's (8-12, 2-8) beat Pitt 65-62 in New York on Jan. 18,
and it looked like the Red Storm might threaten another upset after
trailing only 17-15 at halftime.
"It was a horrible game -- for the first half," Taft said.
Pitt's second half wasn't much better on a night the Panthers
had 22 turnovers and their bench produced only two points in 37
minutes played. But they contested nearly every shot by the Red
Storm, limiting them to 27.8 percent shooting (15-of-54).
"St. John's looks to force turnovers and we helped them on that
end," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But we did a better job of
being aggressive in the second half. We are not playing our best
basketball, and I hope we get more comfortable."
Daryll Hill, the Big East's third-leading scorer with a 19.8
average entering the game, was 6-of-18 from the field and had 18
points, eight fewer than he had in the first meeting with Pitt.
"They put more pressure on me than they did the last game,"
Pitt was the nation's second-best defensive team last season,
but was coming off an 83-78 overtime loss at West Virginia on
Saturday that represented the most points against the Panthers in
nearly 5 years.
"Coach really emphasized the `D,"' point guard Carl Krauser
said. "He said to go back to playing our aggressive defense."
Despite their improved defensive play, the Panthers' frustration
with a second consecutive poorly played game was evident when
Krauser drew a technical foul for arguing with Pitt up only 24-21
early in the second half.
Krauser came into the game averaging 15.9 points, but didn't get
his first field goal until just over a minute into the second half.
He finished with 12 points and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for
Still, Krauser's technical might have awakened the Panthers as
they took control shortly after that, with Troutman and Taft
scoring repeatedly against a St. John's frontcourt that had only
one starter, 6-9 Lamont Hamilton, taller than 6-6.
Taft and Troutman each scored twice during a 10-2 run that built
the Panthers' lead to 42-32 with 6:30 remaining. Until then, St.
John's never trailed by more than five points after withstanding a
nearly 8-minute stretch without a basket early in the game in which
Pitt opened an 11-3 lead.
"It was right there for anybody at 32-30, but Pitt a good job
after that," first-year coach Norm Roberts said.
Eugene Lawrence added 10 points despite shooting 1-of-10 as St.
John's lost its eighth in 10 games and fifth in six since beating
Pitt. The Red Storm are 0-8 on the road.
Hamilton, who had two points, was among six St. John's players
who were suspended or expelled after violating curfew at a
Pittsburgh-area strip club after a loss to the Panthers last Feb.
4. A woman told police she was raped by the players she met at the
club, but no criminal charges were filed against them. The woman
was later charged with prostitution, attempted extortion and filing
Taft, held to two rebounds in 30 minutes at West Virginia, had
eight rebounds and Troutman had seven as Pitt held a 37-31 edge on
the boards, only the third time this season St. John's has been
"After West Virginia, I wanted to get all the rebounds I
could," Taft said.
It was the second time in two seasons the Panthers were held to
17 points in a first half; they also were in a 59-45 decision over
Villanova on March 2, 2004.