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Pitt storms past Lehigh in NIT Tip-Off Tournament semifinals

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 11:30 p.m.
Pitt's Tray Woodall scores over Lehigh's C.J. McCollum during the second half Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, at Petersen Events Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
Pitt's Talib Zanna scores over Lehigh's Greiner Holden during the first half Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's James Robinson scores past Lehigh's Mackey McKnight during the first half Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

The growth in Talib Zanna can be seen in how confident the junior forward looks while draining mid-range jump shots.

His development is one of the main reasons why Pitt's men's basketball team will spend Thanksgiving in New York City.

Zanna tied a career high with 20 points on 8 of 9 shooting, senior guard Tray Woodall scored 23 points after a quiet start, and Pitt stormed past Lehigh, 78-53, on Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center and into the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament.

Pitt (3-0) will play Michigan on Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden, with the winner advancing to the title game Nov. 23.

Zanna scored 20 points for the second time this season — and twice more than he did his first two seasons at Pitt.

“In some ways, he has kept his game simple,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who will give his players the day off Wednesday. “He works hard, and we always knew he was going to be a very good player.”

Woodall outshined the more celebrated C.J. McCollum and helped Pitt control the game at both ends of the floor.

The victory was a critical one for Pitt, and not just because it came against the team that toppled Duke in the NCAA Tournament last March and returned McCollum, one of the best players in the country.

Lehigh (1-2) stayed close to Pitt in the first half, trailing by just five points at intermission. The Panthers, however, scored 25 of the first 34 points of the second half to blow open the game.

Pitt freshman guard James Robinson contained McCollum, who was fifth in the nation in scoring last season. McCollum was held to 17 points, and he didn't crack double figures until the 12:30 mark of the second half when he drained a pull-up jumper to cut Pitt's lead to 56-39.

“That's a freshman, and he did a heck of a job on a senior,“ Woodall said of Robinson. “(McCollum) really wasn't too much of a factor in the game.”

McCollum didn't take long to show why close to 20 NBA scouts were at Petersen Events Center on Monday and Tuesday night.

The baby-faced senior scored Lehigh's first five points, blowing by Robinson on the baseline for an easy layup and hitting a long 3-pointer over Lamar Patterson.

Pitt, on the strength of a 10-0 run that Patterson capped with a 3-point play, opened up a 12-5 lead. Lehigh answered with an 11-1 run to take a 16-13 lead with just under 11 points left in the half.

The game settled into a back-and-forth affair, and the teams traded the lead nine times in the first half.

Zanna, who needed just 18 minutes to match his career-high, and Woodall took over the second half.

Pitt, which hosts Oakland on Saturday night, has won its first three games by an average of 27.3 points.

“It's been a good week for us,” Dixon said.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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