Pitt rallies to beat Penn State in Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Pitt and Penn State hadn't played basketball against each other in eight years, and Jamie Dixon was preaching patience to his Panthers.
It didn't take long to renew the rivalry, at least in terms of intensity.
The Nittany Lions had lured Pitt into taking contested shots, then became the first team to hold a halftime lead over the Panthers.
Pitt relied on fifth-year seniors Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson to rally for a 78-69 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Petersen Events Center.
It was the 146th meeting between the schools but the first since Pitt's 91-54 victory over Penn State in 2005.
Zanna made 7 of 11 shots and scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for the Panthers (8-0). The 6-foot-9 center also had 10 rebounds, a career-high four blocks and scored off a steal.
“That's what you expect from one of your senior leaders, not just getting it done offensively but defensively with the steal and the blocked shot,” Patterson said of Zanna. “That's Pitt basketball right there.”
Patterson added 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and he made a key 3-pointer with 4:24 remaining, then a pivotal three-point play with 1:04 left to give the Panthers a seven-point lead.
“I thought Lamar and Talib did a great job getting us back in the game,” said Pitt point guard James Robinson, who added 10 points. “They brought more energy than we had at the beginning. I think we came out flat. Talib brought it at both ends of the court, Lamar with his playmaking.”
Penn State (6-3) was led by fifth-year senior guard Tim Frazier, who scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the first half as Penn State dictated the pace in taking a 30-28 halftime lead.
Frazier, a 6-foot-1 fifth-year senior who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury, made 6 of 9 shots from the field in the first half and finished 10 of 17.
“He's quick and obviously can score the ball,” Robinson said. “He was able to come off a lot of ball screens. He did his thing. Hats off to him.”
Pitt was averaging a 19.1-point halftime lead and had never trailed at intermission, but it shot 28 percent (7 of 25) in the first half before making 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) in the second half.
Zanna sparked the Panthers early in the second half, converting two three-point plays and then stripping Frazier near midcourt and scoring on a breakaway to give Pitt a 42-41 lead at 13:46.
“I thought Talib was really good the whole game,” Dixon said, “as far as being patient and letting the game come to him.”
After D.J. Newbill, who added 18 points for Penn State, scored to tie it at 47, Zanna answered with a jump hook and then went up and under for a 51-47 lead.
“Talib was great,” said Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, who recruited Zanna as an assistant at Villanova. “He did what he was supposed to do, and Lamar hit a huge 3 that really helped them out and gave them some energy.”
Penn State used a 7-0 run to cut it to 59-58, but Robinson hit two free throws and Patterson a 3-pointer. An Allen Roberts 3-pointer cut it to 63-62. Then Zanna swatted Newbill on a baseline drive, setting up a transition basket by Robinson.
“I thought I saw goaltending, but they saw it differently,” said Chambers, who believed Zanna hit the backboard. “It was a close call.”
Robinson would then step between Frazier and Jack for a steal and score to give the Panthers a 67-62 lead as they pulled away for the double-digit win.
“We're a better team than what we played,” Dixon said. “I'm glad we played a better game in the second half.”