On a chilly Pittsburgh night the Panthers were anything but cold in the Pete last night against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
Many fans wrote this Nit Pre-Season Regional Final game off, but what they forgot is that Lehigh is coming off a surprising NCAA tournament last year where they managed to knock off number two seed Duke. Led by Pre-Season AP All American CJ McCollum, the Mountain Hawks are the clear pick for the Patriot League title and another bid to the prestigious March tournament.
The first half of the game last night started off as many fans thought it would. Pitt came out hot hitting on their first 5 of 7 shots from the field, but slowed down as the Lehigh defense began to tighten up. The second half was a different story. The Panthers used their length and speed to wear down the tired Lehigh basketball team en route to a 73-58 blowout.
McCollum was guarded very well by freshman phenom James Robinson for the better proportion of the game. Robinson and the rest of the Panther defense frustrated the superstar and held him to just 17 points. Yes, 17 points is a lot of points for anyone, but considering the fact that McCollum was averaging just over 27 points a game, this is a great success for the revamped Panther defense who have yet to allow over 55 points of offense from any opponent.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers have looked very good. As a team they are currently the 15th best shooting team in the nation, connecting on a little over 50 percent of their shots. Last night, Pitt utilized their ability to run up the court (including their big men) to get easy lay ups and 15 foot jump shots. Without a true three point shooting threat like Ashton Gibbs was, the Panthers are back to Jamie Dixon style basketball. They enjoy throwing the ball in the paint and letting their big men make moves or use their fantastic interior passing skills to lead to easy baskets.
Leading scorers for the Panthers included fan favorite Travon Woodall who mustered up a game high 23 points and Talib Zanna with 20 points.
Zanna has played very well thus far. I am hoping that this continues all season because he could be a true threat for the Panthers on both sides of the ball. His ability to run, shoot, and pass has shown in his scoring line thus far, and that was again evident last night. Zanna received criticism last year for being lazy and not wanting to run up and down the court, and that resulted in a lack of playing time and low numbers. This year however, there is a new spark under his bottom, and he is playing like a man possessed. Pitt fans must hope that this continues.
The Freshman duo of James Robinson and Steven Adams managed 2 and 6 points respectively. Off of the bench, Durand Johnson managed a bench high 9 points in the action that he saw. Johnson is a red shirt freshman who has been playing a good amount off of the bench this year.
Fresh off of his 20 point night, JJ Moore put up a respectable 8 points off of the bench as well. All of the scoring off of the bench is perhaps one of the Panthers greatest strengths this year, and it is defiantly something that they were lacking last year.
The Panthers return to action this Saturday against Oakland (1-2) at 7:00 pm. Pittsburgh will return back to tournament play next Wednesday against the number 5 team in the nation the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan has yet to really be tested this year, so this should be a fun game that all Pitt fans should be looking forward to. We will be seeing the true colors of this team here in the next couple of days.
As always, Hail to Pitt!