The Pitt Panthers started a string of seven consecutive home games against lower competition when they hosted the Howard Bison Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center.
It took Pitt a while to get going, but Jamie Dixon’s squad did exactly what they were supposed to do: win going away.
Pitt tied a season-high with eight 3-pointers, including a career-high five from Lamar Patterson, as the Panthers cruised to a 70-46 victory to improve to 6-1 on the season.
The Panthers struggled to pull away in the first half, often getting bogged down by the Howard (1-6) zone defense. Pitt (6-1) led only 36-28 at the half as the Bison were able to hang in for a while by outscoring the Panthers 24-10 in the paint during the game’s first 20 minutes.
“Howard came out and fought and battled,” said Dixon. “We gave up way too many layups in the first half. We played better in the second half overall, especially defensively, but we have to get better at attacking the zone.”
That all changed in the second half as the Panthers’ defense got more aggressive and not only forced more turnovers, but made the Bison a jump shooting team in the second half.
The Panthers came out of the locker room with a 7-0 run largely based on getting easier looks at the basket, something they did often in the second half.
“We gave up a lot of easy drive in the first half,” said freshman James Robinson. “We put on big men at a disadvantage. We came out more aggressive in the second half and tried to take the gaps away and make it tougher on them to get easy shots. Our defense let us get out and run more and we got some easier shots that we weren’t getting early on.”
Pitt also fared better scoring in the paint during the second half, outscoring the Bison 22-10, thanks large in part to a bunch of transition baskets and a big second half from Talib Zanna.
Zanna finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, scoring 10 of his points after the break.
“The first half we came out flat,” said Zanna. “Coach yelled at us at halftime and we came out more aggressive in the second half and made sure we got some easy baskets inside. I think after a while we started to wear them down.”
After a slow start to the season offensively, Patterson picked right up from where he left off in Madison Square Garden, finishing with 15 points and five assists. In the first half, it was Patterson’s shooting that helped the Panthers keep a lead.
Patterson was only 4 of 17 from behind the arc during Pitt’s first six games, but finished 5 of 8 on Tuesday.
“I just keep shooting it,” said Patterson. “I have a lot of confidence and am practicing hard and it is translating into the game. Shooting only 4 of 17 isn’t like me. I’m glad it was falling tonight”
Point guard Tray Woodall (15) and Robinson (11) also finished in double-figures for the Panthers.
This was Pitt’s first game without the suspended Trey Zeigler, as sophomore guard Cameron Wright assumed the majority of his minutes, playing a season-high 21.
Overall though the Panthers beat a team they should have beaten, given the fact that Howard had only seven scholarship players.
“Give credit to Pitt,” said Howard head coach Kevin Nickelberry. “It’s tough though. We have two starters out for the season and our best player didn’t play tonight. I thought we could make it tough on them for a while with our zone and try to take the paint away from them, but they wore us down and foul trouble really hurt us. They shot 18 free-throws and we shot three. That tells the whole story.”
The Panthers have a few days off before they get back in action Saturday against Detroit.