PITTSBURGH – Latif Rivers scored all 18 of his points in the second half — including six critical free throws in the final minute — to lead Wagner to a stunning 59-54 victory against No. 15 Pittsburgh on Friday.
Kenneth Ortiz had 12 points and Tyler Murray added 10 for the Seahawks (8-3), who won their first game against a ranked opponent since knocking off then-No. 15 Alabama on Nov. 24, 1978.
Pittsburgh (11-2) saw its nine-game winning streak snapped in emphatic fashion. Ashton Gibbs scored 14 points for the Panthers, who turned it over 18 times while losing to a Northeastern Conference opponent for the first time ever.
The Panthers came in 70-0 all-time against NEC foes, but struggled against Wagner’s pressure and never led during the game’s final 33 minutes.
|TOP 25 SCORES|
|No. 4 Louisville 70, Western Kentucky 60|
|No. 6 Baylor 83, West Virginia 81|
|No. 13 Wisconsin 79, Mississippi Valley State 45|
|Wagner 59, No. 15 Pittsburgh 54|
|No. 21 UNLV 85, California 68|
Wagner coach Danny Hurley has revitalized the Seahawks since taking over just more than a year ago. Along with his brother and assistant coach Bobby — who starred at Duke 20 years ago — Hurley has given the Staten Island, N.Y. school a much-needed dose of toughness.
The Seahawks displayed it in bunches against the bigger, deeper Panthers.
Pitt raced to a 9-2 lead, but once Wagner got control of the pace, it would not let go.
Ortiz and Murray outplayed backcourt counterparts Gibbs and Cameron Wright, with Ortiz getting out in transition to capitalize on sloppy ballhandling by the Panthers.
Gibbs has struggled with his shot since backcourt mate Travon Woodall went out with groin and abdominal injuries in a win against Duquesne on Nov. 30. Though coach Jamie Dixon has praised Gibbs for his willingness to do most of the ballhandling and get his teammates involved, Gibbs has also had issues getting open and creating for himself.
He entered the game shooting just 36 percent from the field since Woodall’s injury, and missed all seven of his shots in the first half. Ortiz had no such issues, going a perfect 5 of 5 to help Wagner take a 29-25 halftime lead, the first time the Panthers have trailed at the half since losing to Long Beach State in the third game of the season.
And Wagner — just like the 49ers — proved it wasn’t a fluke.
Rivers shook off a rough first half to score seven quick points as the Seahawks went ahead 44-32. Pitt clamped down defensively but couldn’t take advantage at the other end of the court.
Gibbs put together a brief hot streak to get the Panthers back in it, but every time Pitt appeared ready to take control, Wagner would respond with a big shot.
Pitt drew as close as three points twice in the final 36 seconds but couldn’t get over the top. Rivers hit six consecutive free throws down the stretch and the Seahawks poured onto the court in celebration after the program’s biggest victory in 33 years.
The Panthers have been nearly unbeatable at the Petersen Events Center during the past decade against nonconference opponents. Pitt started the season with just one loss at home to a non-Big East opponent in the gym’s first nine seasons.
Now the Panthers have lost twice there in a span of five weeks.