No. 15 Pittsburgh 69, SC State 55
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is getting production from one of
his promising young big men.
It’s just not the one everybody thought.
Talib Zanna had 12 points and 14 rebounds to help the
15th-ranked Panthers ease by South Carolina State 69-55 on Saturday
night, proving life should be just fine without highly touted
freshman Khem Birch, who left the team this week to return to his
Dixon declined to get into the specifics about Birch’s decision,
adding there’s little chance of the 6-foot-9 center returning.
”We wish him well,” Dixon said. ”We’re moving forward.”
The development of Zanna and Lamar Patterson helps.
Patterson tied a career high with 16 points and Zanna provided a
steadying presence in the middle after starters Nasir Robinson and
Dante Taylor dealt with foul trouble.
”In the preseason he was our best big guy,” Dixon said of
Zanna. ”He’s given us very good minutes. I’m very comfortable with
him and what he’s doing. He’s going to have some big games.”
The Panthers (10-1) needed Zanna to be effective to win their
eighth straight. South Carolina State (4-7) kept things interesting
well into the second half behind guards Brandon Riley and Khalif
Riley scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half and Toombs
added 16 points while making all four of his 3-pointers as the
Bulldogs proved to be a tough out, slowing the game down to limit
possessions and keeping the hot-shooting Panthers in check.
Pitt came in making nearly 44 percent of its 3-pointers this
season, sixth-best in the country, but went just 5 of 23 from
3-point range against South Carolina State’s unorthodox zone
Ashton Gibbs made just 2 of 12 shots from behind the arc but
finished with 14 points and six assists while filling in at point
guard for injured starter Travon Woodall.
”He’s playing probably too many minutes given the situation,”
Dixon said of Gibbs. ”But he makes everybody better. The other
guys play better when Ashton is in there.”
Patterson in particular.
The sophomore is improving game by game and showed off his
maturity during a pivotal 13-3 second-half run that broke it open
for Pittsburgh after South Carolina State pulled within one.
Patterson converted a putback and rolled in an acrobatic layup
during the burst as Pitt built a 48-37 lead. The Bulldogs never got
closer than nine the rest of the way.
Still, the Bulldogs made Pitt work for it as the Panthers looked
a little sluggish following a week dealing with finals and Birch’s
Birch had played well in spurts and seemed to be finding his
footing in recent weeks, starting six straight games. While he had
trouble getting into a rhythm offensively, his long frame and
exquisite timing made him an effective defensive presence.
The Panthers could use him, but don’t exactly sound like they’re
going to miss him.
”He’s a freshman and he was starting, that says enough,”
Robins said. ”I couldn’t tell in his body language or anything. It
With Birch not around, Dixon turned to lightly used freshman
The 6-foot-11 center came in having played all of one minute
this season. He had five in the first half alone, looking jittery
at times but then again, so did his teammates.
Pitt turned it over four times in the first eight minutes and
didn’t have any real control until Gibbs fueled a 9-0 surge that
gave Pitt a 27-20 lead. The Bulldogs kept hanging around, and the
Panthers needed a follow dunk by Gilbert just before the buzzer to
take a 31-26 lead at the half.
Riley kept South Carolina State close early but was held to just
four in the second half with Gibbs harassing him all over the
Petersen Events Center.
With Riley under wraps, the Panthers used their size to take
control. Pitt outrebounded the Bulldogs 41-29, leading to a 36-18
scoring edge in the paint even if the game-deciding run was more of
a slow jog.
John Johnson’s two free throws got Pitt started before Patterson
went to work. Johnson later added a layup, JJ Moore hit a putback
and Zanna tipped in a miss.
”I really thought we probably played as well as we could have
played, with the exception of missing a number of pretty easy
layups,” South Carolina State coach Tim Carter said. ”They did a
great job of getting second tips on us. Their length really hurt
By the time Gibbs drilled a pullup jumper to make it 50-39, the
Panthers were safe though their uneven performance will give them
plenty to work on over the next two weeks before their Big East
opener against Cincinnati on New Year’s Day.
”We are very excited about where we’re going in the future,”
Dixon said. ”We’re 10-1 and looking forward to the next