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Panthers finally leave comforts of home, face Texas Tech

| Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, 9:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cameron Wright drives past Lehigh's Devon Carter in the first half Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.

At 4-1, Texas Tech presents a unique set of challenges for the undefeated Pitt basketball team in its first game away from Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers dominated Savannah State, Fresno State, Howard and Lehigh by an average of 26.3 points, but the 7:30 p.m. Monday matchup in the Progressive Legends Classic features an opponent from a power conference with a different skill set from their first four opponents.

“We've made it look easy,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It's not easy.”

Added sophomore guard James Robinson, who's second on the team in assists: “We have a lot of work to do going into (this) week.”

Pitt will face Stanford or Houston in the final set of games Tuesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We're probably going to play bigger teams, more physical teams, than we played the first four games,” Dixon said of Texas Tech, Stanford and Houston posting a combined 13-2 record this season. “Texas Tech (is) a physical team, a tough team. We're going to have to execute (better) in the halfcourt than we did the first four games. We're going to need to do better in the halfcourt and get the ball inside.”

Inside, 6-foot-9 senior center Talib Zanna averages a team-high 15.3 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting a team-high 78.3 percent. Backup Derrick Randall, a 6-9 junior transfer from Rutgers, averages 5.5 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 60.0 percent.

Zanna and Randall are a combined 27 for 38 from the field.

“We're getting 21 points and 16 rebounds from that group. We want to go inside-out with our motion (offense),” Dixon said. “Good production and some room to improve at the same time. Randall is scoring better than we thought.”

First-year Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, who won a national championship at Kentucky and spent several seasons at Minnesota, is trying to stabilize a program that has had five coaches since 2008.

With little time to bring in his own players, Smith focused on selling his philosophy to a core of veterans featuring 6-7 junior Jordan Tolbert, 6-7 senior Jaye Crockett and 6-3 junior Robert Turner.

Texas Tech appears to be buying what Smith is selling: Four of Smith's starters boast double-digit scoring averages.

Meanwhile, accurate outside shooting fuels Pitt's attack. The Panthers have connected on 26 of 67 3-pointers (38.8 percent). Sophomore Durand Johnson and senior Lamar Patterson lead with nine and seven 3-pointers, respectively.

Johnson drilled five 3-pointers — all in the first half — in the Panthers' 77-58 win over Lehigh.

“We shoot the ball,” Dixon said. “We feel like we can shoot from four different positions. We're better at the 2-3 (shooting guard, small forward) than we have been in several years.”

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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