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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Faced with the prospect of taking an entire week off in the middle of the season, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon instead opted to throw unheralded Bryant onto the schedule to keep his players in a rhythm.
It nearly backfired.
Jamel Artis scored a career-high 32 points, and the Panthers needed every one of them in a 72-67 win over the upstart Bulldogs on Monday night.
"This game shouldn't have been close," Artis said. "We probably underestimated them."
Artis made 11 of 17 field goals — most of them on midrange jumpers after finding soft spots in Bryant's zone defense — and knocked down the clinching free throws with two seconds left as the Panthers (15-8) avoided a major letdown barely 48 hours removed from a rousing upset of Notre Dame.
Chris Jones drilled a baseline jumper with 1:12 to go to put Pitt in front for good as Pitt won its 30th straight nonconference game at the Petersen Events Center.
Dan Garvin poured in a career-high 24 for the Bulldogs (10-11). Dyami Starks added 17 but missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key that would have tied the game with six seconds left as the Northeastern Conference school fell to 1-8 all-time against the ACC.
Bryant made the Panthers work for it. There were eight ties and eight lead changes as Bryant hit shots early and hung around until the end.
"Pitt may say 'We didn't play well,'" Bryant coach Tim O'Shea said. "But give some credit to Bryant for coming in and taking it to them."
The Bulldogs, in just their third season as a full-fledged member of Division I, shot 51 percent from the floor, outscored Pitt 30-24 in the paint and led for several stretches.
"Most of you are probably surprised," O'Shea said. "You shouldn't be. Teams at our level can play."
Artis singlehandedly kept Pitt in it, scoring 14 points during one stretch in the second half as Pitt turned a 41-35 deficit into a 52-44 lead. The Bulldogs, playing their third game in five days, continued to fight back by repeatedly getting into the lane on a series of drives by Garvin and backdoor cuts by Starks and Shane McLaughlin.
Starks hit a lay-up to put Bryant in front 67-66 with 2:25 left but the Bulldogs would not score again. Jones stepped in front of a McLaughlin pass with 1:05 to go and Bryant couldn't corral a rebound off a missed free throw by James Robinson. The Panthers ran down the shot clock and Cameron Wright's jumper from the elbow gave Pitt a three-point cushion. Starks' ninth 3-point attempt of the game missed badly and Pitt escaped.
"We've got to find ways (to win)," Dixon said. "We've got to become better defensively."
The Panthers revived their season by slipping past the Irish on Saturday, the kind of resume-building victory they believe could propel them through a daunting stretch that includes games against Syracuse, No. 9 Louisville, No. 12 North Carolina and No. 3 Virginia over the next two weeks.
Whatever momentum Pitt carried over from nipping the Irish vanished in the first 20 minutes against Bryant. Now the Panthers have three days to get ready for the Orange, who will provide a more physical test Pitt needs to pass if it wants to generate a real push for an NCAA tournament berth.
Bryant: Starks moved into 17th place all-time in the Northeastern Conference on the career 3-pointers list with 245 makes.
Pitt: Lamar Patterson was the last Pitt player to score 30 points in a game, doing it last year against Clemson.
Jones scored all four points by Pitt's increasingly thin bench. The sophomore was plagued by back issues that forced him to miss practice on Sunday. He managed to play 20 minutes while fellow reserves Ryan Luther, Sheldon Jeter and Derrick Randall played eight minutes combined.
"We've got to have more guys out there," Dixon said. "Our defense is suffering because of it."
Bryant has played just eight home games this season, a harsh reality for a program that needs the money playing guaranteed games on the road against higher division opponents provides. Still, O'Shea is pleased with his team's progress. The Bulldogs led defending champion UConn at the half in the season opener before taking Pitt to the limit.
"We play in a small gymnasium," O'Shea said. "It's a big stage for our kids. Sometimes it's a little bit of luck, little bit of experience to finish it out."
Bryant hosts Mount St. Mary's on Thursday.
Pitt welcomes Syracuse on Saturday.
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