Pitt closes nonconference schedule with 59-43 win

| Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, 7:02 p.m.

Pitt closed its nonconference schedule with a lackluster yet sufficient win over Kennesaw State, 59-43, on Sunday night at Petersen Events Center.

Talib Zanna led the team with 12 points and nine rebounds, and coach Jamie Dixon earned his 250th career win as the Panthers improved to 12-1 heading into their final season in the Big East.

Their only loss of the season came against Michigan, 67-62.

“We're starting over 0-0 now is what I told our guys going forward,” said Dixon, who is 250-78 as a head coach. “I didn't think we had our best performance (Sunday), but that's behind us ,and we're getting ready for conference play.”

Pitt will have three days off before resuming practice Thursday. The Panthers face No. 11 Cincinnati on Dec. 31 in their Big East opener.

The game Sunday probably was closer at junctures than Pitt anticipated, given Kennesaw State came in 1-10, including nine straight losses.

But the Owls made four of their first six shots from 3-point range and trailed just 16-13 with 11 minutes to go in the first half.

Pitt went on a 10-3 run to open its first double-digit lead with four minutes remaining, and the Panthers led, 30-16, at halftime. The 16 points permitted is tied for the ninth fewest the Panthers have allowed in a half in school history.

Zanna led all players with 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half.

But Kennesaw State again went to the 3-pointer in the second half and hit three in a row before a tip-in made it 39-29 with 13:48 left. The Owls again pulled within 10 points, making it 44-34 on yet another 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining.

“They played hard the whole game and hit open jump shots,” Pitt guard James Robinson said. “They were on. We didn't have one of our best defensive performances, and that's something we're going to have to work on heading into Big East play.”

Kennesaw State shot 46 percent from the field in the second half compared to Pitt's 40 percent, and the Panthers narrowly outscored them, 29-27.

“I thought our guys, the second 20 minutes, played with the energy and effort I wanted them to play with,” said Kennesaw State coach Lewis Preston, a former Notre Dame assistant. “(Pitt's) the biggest and most physical team we've played all year and probably will be the most physical and biggest team we'll play throughout the course of the season.”

Pitt senior center Dante Taylor, whose availability was questionable after he missed the Panthers' previous game with a bruised heel, played 13 minutes. He had three points and three rebounds.

“He wasn't 100 percent, obviously, and we didn't want to play him a lot,” Dixon said. “I think we got what we wanted to get out of him and hopefully helped just to get him ready here going forward.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kprice@tribweb.com.

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