NCAA BASKETBALL: Bruising Panthers stay unbeaten in ACC
ATLANTA — Pittsburgh just kept coming, in waves, furiously pounding the boards.
In no time at all, the 22nd-ranked Panthers have put their stamp on the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Talib Zanna scored 22 points, James Robinson added 16 and Pittsburgh pulled away in the second half, remaining perfect in the ACC with a bruising 81-74 victory over Georgia Tech on Tuesday night.
The Panthers (16-1, 4-0) did most of their work on the inside, piling up an astonishing 38-18 rebounding edge.
“This is the first team I’ve seen in the ACC that attacks the glass like they did,” Georgia Tech sophomore Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “If one guy misses, they’re all on the glass.”
Pitt trailed 35-32 at halftime but quickly seized control after the break for its sixth straight win. Georgia Tech (10-7, 1-3) called a couple of quick timeouts, trying to stem the onslaught, but the Yellow Jackets couldn’t prevent another victory by the conference newcomer.
Next up for the Panthers: a Saturday showdown with the ACC’s other new member, second-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse.
“We didn’t even bring up the thought that Syracuse was coming up down the schedule,” Robinson said. “We knew we had to come in here and battle.”
Giving Pitt a bit of a scare in the final minute, Georgia Tech got as close as 78-74 before the Panthers sealed it at the free throw line. It was their closest victory of the season, the first 15 coming by an average of 17.8 points.
Trae Golden led Georgia Tech with 22 points.
The previous day, Pittsburgh moved into The Associated Press poll for the first time this season.
The Panthers sure looked worthy of the ranking through much of the second half, leading by as many as 14 points.
Cameron Wright had 14 points, 12 in the second half. Lamar Patterson scored all 12 of his points after the break, bouncing back after missing all five shots in the first half.
“I’m really happy with how we did it, how we responded,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Rebounding is something we have to do to win on the road. To lead by that kind of margin is good.”
The first 20 minutes were tight, with 11 lead changes and neither team getting up by more than five points. Georgia Tech closed the period with a flourish, taking advantage of two turnovers to rip off a quick 6-0 run that prompted Dixon to disgustedly call a timeout with 57 seconds remaining.
Robinson hit a jumper to halt the spurt, and Georgia Tech squandered a chance to take some momentum to the locker room when Georges-Hunt missed a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Yellow Jackets settled for a three-point lead.
The second half was totally different. Pittsburgh scored nine straight points to take the lead for good and wore down the short-handed Yellow Jackets, who were playing with only eight scholarship players because of injuries and illness. Zanna led the Panthers with nine rebounds, while Patterson and Young chipped in with seven apiece. No one from Georgia Tech had more than five.
“We just did a good job grinding it out as team,” said Patterson, who came in averaging nearly 18 points a game.
Even when something went right for Georgia Tech, it didn’t turn out well.
The crowd roared when Wright drove into the lane and had his shot swatted away by Daniel Miller. But Patterson chased down the loose ball, charged fearlessly back into the lane, hit the shot and was fouled by Georges-Hunt. The three-point play pushed the Panthers’ lead to 59-45 with 7:53 remaining.
Georges-Hunt chipped in 13 points, while Miller and Kammeon Holsey had 12 apiece.
Pitt had to get by without sixth man Durand Johnson, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest. The sophomore forward was blossoming as the first man off the bench, averaging 8.8 points and ranking second on the team with 22 3-pointers.
The Panthers went just 2-for-7 from beyond the arc but didn’t need any long-range shooting the way they were controlling things on the inside.
“When we lost Durand, that hurts us all,” Wright said. “We’re playing even harder for him.”
Pitt beat Georgia Tech for the first time in school history. The Yellow Jackets came into the game holding a 5-0 lead in the series, but that didn’t mean much since the teams had not played since Dec. 28, 1989, when Georgia Tech won 111-92 at the long-since-demolished Omni in downtown Atlanta.