The Pitt basketball team entered Monday’s ACC clash with North Carolina State looking to do something that it hasn’t done in over a month and a half – win three consecutive games.
N.C. State’s T.J. Warren single handily made sure that wouldn’t happen.
Warren scored a Petersen Events Center-record 41 points as he helped the Wolfpack erase a 13-point first-half deficit in a 74-67 win over Pitt.
Warren made 16 of 22 shots on the night, scoring 25 of his 41 in the second half. Every time the Panthers closed the gap, Warren hit a big shot and took the momentum away from Pitt (22-8, 10-7 ACC).
“It was a big night,” said Warren. “It was a team effort. My teammates did a great job of finding me. I just did a lot of moving without the ball and finding the open spots.”
Pitt came out hot as Lamar Patterson scored six of Pitt’s first eight points and with the game tied at 14, the Panthers broke things open for a moment.
Freshman guard Josh Newkirk keyed a 14-3 first-half run, by knocking down a pair of shots from behind the arc to put Pitt up 28-17. Newkirk scored 11 of his career-high 20 points in the first half, knocking down five shots from behind the arc on the night.
“I just tried to provide a spark and energy off the bench,” said Newkirk. “Unfortunately it didn’t come in a win.”
Pitt’s lead grew to as many as 13 late in the half, but they didn’t close it out strong as N.C. State (18-12, 8-9) closed within 36-31 at the break.
The Panthers started out making 11 of their first 15 attempts from the floor, but made only two of their final eight shots to close the half.
“They got that little run at the end of the first half,” said Patterson. “That kind of gave them momentum and they came out in the second half hitting shots.”
Pitt didn’t execute very well to start the second half and the Wolfpack tied the game at 44 five minutes into the half and took the lead for good on a dunk by Lennerd Freeman seconds later.
Pitt never led again.
Warren scored 12 points in a four-minute span to push the Wolfpack lead to as many as five but Newkirk hit a big 3-pointer to pull the Panthers within one. Then Warren got some help from his teammates as Ralston Turner and Anthony Barber knocked down big 3s to push the Wolfpack back up five before Pitt’s Michael Young hit a triple to make it a 66-65 game.
But Warren answered with a three of his own, his third of the game, to push N.C. State back up four, which all but ended the game.
“We talked about two things, not turning the ball over and dominating the glass,” said N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried. “We did a great job as a team. That was a total team win against a good team. T.J. was spectacular but it was a team effort and we were able to close out a big win. We finished tonight. We haven’t finished games well all year but we were able to close one out.”
Some of Pitt’s struggles were due to the fact that the Panthers got crushed on the boards as N.C. State outrebounded Pitt 35-23, including 13-2 in terms of offensive rebounds.
The 23 rebounds tied a Pitt low for a Jamie Dixon-coached team.
The Panthers also made only 15 of 23 free throws on the night, including five big misses from Patterson.
“It was the rebounding and Warren,” said Dixon. “We have been stressing the rebounding all year. We have to outrebound people. When we have fallen short it has been because of the rebounding. Sometimes I think that they don’t believe that, but to only get two offensive rebounds and 23 rebounds is frustrating. It’s very tough to swallow.”
Warren’s 41 broke the Petersen Events Center record that was held by Notre Dame’s Chris Quinn, who scored 37 in a double-overtime game on January 4, 2006.
In addition to Warren’s big night, Freeman was also in double figures for the Wolfpack with 10.
Newkirk led the Panthers in scoring, Patterson chipped in 17 and Talib Zanna added 11 to go along with nine rebounds, as the Panthers dropped to 4-5 at home in ACC play.
Pitt is off until Saturday where they will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives when they travel to Clemson.
“The message is not getting across,” said Dixon. “We got what we deserved. We have to get to work and be better on Saturday.”