Pitt routs Savannah State in opener

| Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 6:51 p.m.

Bigger, faster, stronger.

Pitt had its way Friday night in its 88-55 wire-to-wire mastery of Savannah State at Petersen Events Center.

A 19-2 run to open the game, courtesy of impenetrable defense leading to high-percentage accuracy on offense, created the desired result in Pitt's 17th consecutive season-opening win.

Six Panthers scored in double figures.

Turning a negative into a positive, junior big man Derrick Randall replaced senior Talib Zanna in the lineup and jump-started Pitt with four early points. Zanna, who averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds last season, was suspended for a violation of team rules.

Randall, in his first season at Pitt after playing two years at Rutgers, recorded career highs in points (12) and rebounds (12) in 20 minutes.

After learning he was the emergency starter, Randall, who missed 10 days in preseason because of a knee injury, wanted to “go out and do everything right.”

He scored back-to-back baskets in the first three minutes, including a putback in which he cleared out space to secure an offensive rebound.

“He's one of our guys, no question,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He's a good rebounder, good hands, and he finishes better than probably anticipated.”

James Robinson led Pitt with 13 points, Durand Johnson scored 12 points, Lamar Patterson and Josh Newkirk added 11 points apiece, and Cameron Wright had 10 points.

The Panthers' biggest concern entering the game was their ability to handle Savannah State's quickness. In retrospect, it was Savannah State's inability to handle the Panthers' quickness, along with Pitt's superior size and athleticism.

Patterson was brilliant with six points, four rebounds and six of his game-high seven assists in 13 first-half minutes. Patterson recorded more assists than the entire Savannah State team, which totaled three in the first half.

“It starts with him,” Dixon said. “I thought his passing early in the game was tremendous.”

Pitt led 40-13 at halftime, limiting Savannah State to the Panthers' third-lowest opponent point total in a half since 1954-55.

Savannah State opened the second half on a 10-4 run on 5 of 9 shooting, tallying nearly as many points in six minutes as it did in the first half. Pitt, meanwhile, missed five of its first six attempts.

“Guys lost focus a little bit,” Patterson said.

Despite not playing with the same level of urgency, the Panthers' advantage never below 21 points.

They led by as many as 38 after halftime.

Notes: Dixon didn't go into detail about Zanna's one-game suspension. “He didn't do the right thing,” Dixon said. Zanna will return for Tuesday's home game against Fresno State. ... Pitt outrebounded Savannah State, 47-28. ... Junior Aron Nwankwo missed the game to be with his mother, who is ill.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib

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