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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sometimes, you have to learn a lesson the hard way.
That's what happened as Pittsburgh (7-5) took a big lead into halftime against Delaware State on Tuesday, but let it slip away in the second half, for a closer-than-expected 74-68 victory over the Hornets.
The Panthers, who are playing seven true freshmen, led by as many as 27 in the first half and by 22 at halftime, but came out after the break and simply let up on the Hornets, according to head coach Kevin Stallings.
"If we're not focused and intense and not really on point, we're not going to look like a very good team," Stallings said. "I do think our guys are learning that. Fortunately, we didn't learn that the real hard way tonight."
Delaware State (2-11) forced Pitt into taking some outside shots, and the Panthers, who had hit 8 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half, cooled off significantly, making 5 of 19 from beyond the arc after the break.
With the freshmen floundering, it was senior guard Jonathan Milligan that stepped up. Milligan finished with 13 points, including a pair of clutch free throws.
"We've learned a lot on the go," Milligan said of his young teammates. "We're not going to handle it the best at times, but we're going to keep trying to get better."
Junior Jared Wilson-Frame also had 13 points for Pitt, while freshman Khameron Davis finished with 10. Davis had a big sequence with under two minutes to play, when he recorded a block, a steal and then made a 3-pointer at the other end in quick succession.
Kavon Waller scored 17 points and Pinky Wiley added 16 points and seven assists for the Hornets. Simon Okolue had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
After a corner 3-pointer by Hornets forward Artem Tavakalyan cut the Pitt lead to two with 22.1 seconds remaining, Milligan went to the free-throw line to sink both and restore Pitt's two-possession margin.
Delaware State: The Hornets remain mired in a season-long 11-game losing streak against Division I opponents. But they've seen progress since their 49-point loss to Duquesne on Dec. 9. After losing to in-state rival Delaware by nine on Dec. 17, the Hornets closed hard against Pitt, their first power-conference opponent of the season.
"This game was indicative of how good we can be," Hornets head coach Keith Walker said. "If we'd have come out with that passion, that desire to compete, in the first half the way we came out in the second half, we would have been OK."
Pitt: The Panthers continued to navigate the loss of senior power forward Ryan Luther. Luther missed his second game in what will be a multiple-week absence with a stress reaction in his right foot. Replacing him remains a work in progress, as the Panthers were outrebounded 37-27 and outscored in the paint 20-14.
Delaware State will continue its three-game road swing with a trip to Nebraska on Friday.
Pitt will finish its non-conference schedule with a home game against Towson on Friday.
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