By: Ryan Bertonaschi
The Pittsburgh Panthers received several flashes of brilliance from an end-of-the-bench regular Wednesday night against Florida State, and he provided them with enough points to hold a comfortable lead and close out their game with a 73-64 win.
Senior walk-on Aron Phillips-Nwankwo, whose headband has, over the years, rarely soaked up the sweat that his dread-locked hair produces, gave the Panthers 7 second-half points. Each of his two baskets and three free-throws sent the Oakland Zoo and in its surrounding Pitt fans into a state of frenzy that upped the Petersen Events Center’s decibel level to 2009 heights.
The game featured eight ties and nine lead changes, and all of them came before Phillips-Nwankwo threw down a defying two-handed dunk in transition four minutes into the second half.
The Panthers built on their lead from there.
“I leaked out a little bit, and I saw Cam get it,” Phillips-Nwankwo said of his dunk after the game. “There was nobody ahead of me, and [Cameron Wright] made a really good pass, so I just finished it as strong as I could.”
Phillips-Nwankwo, who Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon described as the most-improved player “in college basketball” over the last five years, registered a career-high in minutes (12) and points (7).
Michael Young called Phillips-Nwankwo the team’s strongest player.
Coming off a home game against Clemson in which the Panthers posted the lowest rebounding total for a Pitt team in the history of the Petersen Events Center, Pitt won the rebounding battle 39-31 on Wednesday despite Florida State being the second-tallest team in college basketball.
Young said he took his team’s results from last game personally.
“We got outrebounded by 17 last game, that is an embarrassment,” Young said. “That’s an attack at everybody’s pride, because rebounding is all about effort and pride. The last two practices, we went after it, and it showed today.”
The Seminoles did, however, block 7 of Pitt’s shots.
Michael Young scored a game-high 16 points and pulled in 12 rebounds. Chris Jones gave the Panthers 15 points of his own, and Jamel Artis chipped in with 13.
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton had high praise for Young.
“Young was just methodical with his approach,” Hamilton said. “He reversed the ball, he was solid, he never allowed for himself to be sped up, and he played with a lot of confidence, and he did all the dirty work.
When you have guys who understand the importance of creating easy baskets for their teammates, that’s an art. That’s a skill, mentally and emotionally. And I thought he demonstrated why he’s one of the better inside guys in the league.”
The Seminoles sent a full-court press Pitt’s way in the game’s final minutes, and the Panthers allowed Florida State to cut into their double-digit lead due to several missed three throws.
Pitt missed six of seven free throws, which included four-straight misses from James Robinson.
“We had the right guys shooting free throws. They just didn’t go down,” Dixon said.
But Robinson was fouled with 1:23 remaining and made two. The Panthers winded the clock down, and Dixon earned his 300th career win.
Dixon and Pitt will begin the quest for 400 Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center when the Panthers welcome Georgia Tech.