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Pitt senior big man Zanna answers questions in ACC play

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 10:06 p.m.
Pitt's Lamar Patterson (21), Talib Zanna (42) and James Robinson (0) react towards the end of their game against N.C. State on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C.

Talib Zanna knows one of the biggest questions surrounding Pitt's inaugural season in the ACC was whether he could handle the rigors of playing center.

The fifth-year senior, a converted power forward, believes that he had been prepared by the physical play of three seasons in the Big East. Zanna insisted all along he was more ready for the ACC than it was for him.

Then he proved it.

Zanna had 15 points and nine rebounds in Pitt's 74-62 victory at N.C. State on Saturday.

The 6-foot-9, 230-pounder from Nigeria was 3 for 3 from both the field and the free-throw line in scoring nine second-half points as the Panthers turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a double-digit lead.

“That's what you expect,” fellow Pitt fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson said. “Talib's been here just as long as me. He knows what it takes. He's been through every tough game that I've been through. He knows what we have to do to win.”

Zanna made 4 of 6 shots from the field and 7 of 11 free throws while facing a pair of challenges against the Wolfpack, taking turns going up against 7-1, 245-pound center Jordan Vandenberg and 6-9, 325-pound backup BeeJay Anya.

“They keep throwing guys at me,” Zanna said. “I just go out there and do the dirty work.”

Next, Pitt (13-1, 1-0) plays host to Maryland (10-5, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Monday at Petersen Events Center.

For Zanna, who played at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., Maryland is as close as it comes to playing against a hometown school.

The Terrapins feature a post pairing of 6-9, 265-pound sophomore Shaquille Cleare and 6-8, 260-pound sophomore Charles Mitchell.

That duo combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds and held Georgia Tech center Daniel Miller to seven points and four rebounds in the Terrapins' 77-61 victory Saturday.

After his scoring average dipped by three points during conference play last season, Zanna made it a point to improve his endurance this summer so he wouldn't wear down this season. He is averaging 12.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game this season.

With backup Derrick Randall providing only 2.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in limited minutes so far, Zanna knows he will have to handle a heavier workload.

Now, Zanna is faced with a new question: Can he keep it up all season?

“It's a matter of heart, who has it,” Zanna said. “It's not the body. If you have heart, you can bring it every day.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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