“Are you having fun now?”
That’s what Penn State coach Patrick Chambers was asking his bench players when the Nittany Lions were leading the Pitt Panthers 59-58 early in the second half.
Penn State had the Panthers on the ropes, however Pitt responded and came away with a 78-69 victory to stay undefeated. The game at Petersen Events Center was part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“It wasn’t a good first half for us,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I spent the whole halftime emphasizing the number of assists that we had at halftime, and three is not a good number for us. Sometimes stats don’t lie, and that certainly was it.
“We were just impatient and didn’t let things come. We didn’t play well but I’m fortunate that we got a good win. It’s a good team.”
Seniors Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson paced the Panthers. Zanna had 16 points and 10 rebounds, with 14 of his points coming in the second half. Patterson also had 16 points to go with nine rebounds. Tim Frazier led Penn State with a game-high 27 points.
“They brought more energy than we had to begin,” Pitt’s James Robinson said. “Zanna used his energy on both ends of the court. Patterson and his playmaking helped the team rally around them.”
The Panthers struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 28 percent and making just seven shots. What kept the score close was the free throw line. It was there that Pitt went 13 of 14 – a 92.9 percent clip.
Penn State led by seven with 3:39 to go in the first half; however, before the one-minute mark, Pitt’s Durand Johnson made a three to tie the game. Penn State would take a 30-28 lead into the half, the first time this year the Panthers (8-0) trailed at intermission.
Coming out of the first media timeout of the second half, the Nittany Lions led by six. The Panthers came back thanks to a Zanna steal and layup to give the Panthers a lead that would not hold.
Tied at 47, Pitt appeared to have pulled away, going on a 9-2 run in just under three minutes. The big blow was a Cameron Wright score and foul that turned into a three-point play. Penn State quickly responded with a 10-3 run. Donovan Jack made a layup to give the Nittany Lions a lead once again at 59-58.
Up by one with four minutes to play in the second half, Pitt got a block from Zanna. Patterson quickly passed the ball to James Robinson for the two, going with the higher percentage shot. This sequence allowed the Panthers to pull away. Penn State (6-3) took a timeout down five, but it was to no avail as Patterson converted a three-point play, putting the game out of reach.
“Our hats go off to Pittsburgh. They made tough plays and got a lot of and-one baskets that pushed them up,” Penn State guard Tim Frazier said. “Those plays helped them down the stretch and we needed to come out and make plays late.”
The Panthers will next play Friday night against Loyola Marymount.