Wanamaker's big shots propel Pitt to win
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been encouraging Brad Wanamaker to shoot when he has an open look.
The Pitt junior swingman did so with perfect timing, just when time was running out.
Wanamaker sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a Chase Adams trey and a Nasir Robinson jumper — all in the final seconds of the 35-second shot clock — to turn a three-point lead into a double-digit halftime advantage.
Wanamaker finished with a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds, as Pitt shot a season-best 53.3 percent in a 71-59 victory over Kent State on Saturday afternoon before 9,468 at Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (8-2) made 24 of 45 shots, including 9 of 16 3-pointers.
"We haven't really done that a lot this year," Dixon said. "We haven't made those shots. We've missed shots at the end of clock. That's something we've always done in the past — had patience and score at the end of possessions and 'grinding people out' is kind of the term we use.
"It was nice to see us make some shots. I know we're going to be a good shooting team once we get everything going and continue to improve."
It was the patience the Panthers showed in working the ball around the perimeter that was most impressive. Where Pitt was able to score at will the past two seasons, this team is learning to play like the Panthers did prior to the up-tempo days of DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.
With Pitt clinging to a 25-22 lead, Wanamaker's 3-pointer in the final seconds of the shot clock started an 11-5 run. Ashton Gibbs fed Chase Adams for a 3 from the left corner at the shot-clock buzzer for a 31-24 edge, and Robinson added an 18-footer for a 33-27 lead.
"That deflated us, really," Kent State senior guard Chris Singletary said.
Kent State (5-4) never recovered, as the Golden Flashes shot 33.3 percent (11 of 33) in the second half, missing all nine 3-point attempts.
Forward Justin Greene led Kent State with 17 points and six rebounds.
When it came to the help defense, Kent State overcompensated.
"I think those were the two biggest plays of the game, to be honest, because we actually guarded well for 34 seconds, but it's to no avail," Kent State coach Geno Ford said. "We were really foolish and over-helped. Basically, you can't ever help up at the basketball, and we helped up on two drives.
"They shot the ball very, very well — which they're going to do. Their record at home in non-league games is like 72-1 now, so it wasn't like we came in here thinking they were going to miss shots."
Pitt actually set a school record with its 44th victory over a non-conference opponent at Petersen Events Center, where it has won 27 consecutive games. The Panthers, coming off a 74-64 loss to Indiana on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic, also avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time since 2008.
The sharpshooting was Pitt's salvation on an afternoon when the Panthers compiled a season-high 19 turnovers to 18 assists, extending that trend to six times in the past seven consecutive games.
Wanamaker was the catalyst, as he made 5 of 7 shots from the field, including all three 3-point attempts, and 5 of 6 free throws. Most importantly, Wanamaker showed the poise of an upperclassman.
"Any time a team is hitting shots at the end of the shot clock from playing great defense, it's going to hurt you," Wanamaker said. "I feel as though they thought they were playing great (defense). For us to find an opening at the end, it hurts."