Pittsburgh’s Toughness Leads To Big Comeback Win Over N.C. StatePosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 4th, 2014
Back in October at ACC Operation Basketball, Pittsburgh Head Coach Jaime Dixon sounded as though he had something of a chip on his shoulder. It was as if he wanted the ACC media to know that moving from the Big East to the ACC was not a move up in competition for Pittsburgh. He had good reason to think that way, with the Big East rated higher than the ACC in nearly ever conference metric over the last several seasons, and with Pitt the winningest team in the Big East over the last dozen years. Plus, all the talk about this year’s ACC being the greatest basketball conference ever was based on the power of the schools it was bringing in from the old Big East.
Dixon must have been wondering if perhaps he had been mistaken when he witnessed his team down 17-2 after the first six minutes against N.C. State in Raleigh Saturday afternoon. But the veteran Panthers came roaring back, cutting the deficit to eight at halftime before dominating the second half on the way to a 74-62 win. Leading the way were seniors Lamar Patterson (22/8) and Talib Zanna (15/9). In particular, Patterson had an outstanding second half, with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists after the intermission. Here are some takeaways for each team after their first game of ACC play.
Takeaways for Pittsburgh. Not only was this the first ACC game in Pitt history, but also the Panthers’ first true road game of the year — perhaps there were some nerves that caused the Panthers to get off to such a slow start. In the postgame press conference, Dixon said his team’s play “couldn’t have been worse in the first half.” He went on to say that he felt encouraged that the halftime margin was only eight after such a poor performance. Turning things around on the glass was a key to the comeback for a team that entered the game as the #11 team in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In the first half, the Panthers only managed to corral four of their 19 misses; whereas the second half was a return to form with Pitt grabbing five of the available 11 offensive rebounds. As Dixon mentioned, Pitt has not been shooting the ball well lately, so they have to perform in other areas to be successful — rebounding and turnover margin (+5 vs. N.C. State) are ways to do that. Another positive for Pitt is the overall maturity, mentally and physically, that the Panthers possess on this team. Against the Wolfpack, not only did they play with more effort, but the upper bodies of the experienced Pitt players were noticeable in comparison with the young physiques of the N.C. State players. That really showed when Pitt turned up the defense in the second half and the Wolfpack wilted. Lastly, this year’s Pitt team is more effective in transition than some of the recent Panthers squads. Pittsburgh outscored N.C. State 24-11 in fast break points this afternoon.
Takeaways for N.C. State. While Jamie Dixon was upset with his team’s first half effort, Wolfpack Head Coach Mark Gottfried was equally disappointed in his squad’s second half. In his opening comments at the postgame press conference, Gottfried said that “Pitt out-toughed us.” He went on to lament that when challenged in the second half, “We did not respond.” For the most part this season, N.C. State has played with good energy but that faltered in the second half Saturday and they clearly can’t beat good teams that way. With the conference season now here, the Pack will face teams that have scouted well and will need to adapt by finding scoring help for T.J. Warren. The ACC’s leading scorer hit his average (23 points), but in a recurring theme, he did not receive much support. Considering the youth of the team’s interior players, scoring help needs to come from the perimeter. It certainly did not appear against Pitt, with the starting Wolfpack backcourt of Anthony Barber and Desmond Lee combining for 14 points on a dismal 3-of-15 shooting performance. The duo was also responsible for eight of the 16 Pack turnovers. Opponents are starting to figure out that Barber is a reluctant outside shooter (zero three-point attempts), and because of that that they are sagging back and clogging the lane. If or until the N.C. State perimeter steps up, defenses will be able to focus on stopping Warren almost exclusively.