Pitt opened its two-game exhibition schedule with a 104-62 win over Northwood University on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks are coached by legendary head coach Rollie Massimino, a former Villanova head coach who led the Wildcats to the 1985 National Championship.
Gibbs led the way with 25 for Pitt, followed by starters Wanamaker with 18, Zanna with 13 in his first start, and 10 from Woodall. J.J. Moore came off the bench to score 17--including 14 in the second half. Interestingly, Moore's role in the first half was taking threes. He connected on just one, but when he opened himself up more and took some more drives, it helped him relax a little more from three-point range. He connected on two three-pointers in the second half. The second half effort by Moore definitely caught the eye of Massimino.
"I watched him in practice," Massimino said. "He was really making a lot of dunks. I didn't think he could shoot the ball like that. He's got extremely good poise for a freshman."
One thing that was telling from Pitt's offensive effort, was its ability to distribute the ball. The Panthers assisted on 29 of its 35 field goals. Gibbs and Woodall led the team with eight assists each, and other players like Wanamaker were able to create off the dribble and make the easy pass. Gary McGhee even had an assist kicking one back out to an open Ashton Gibbs who connected on a jumper from the wing, which gave Pitt a 30-10 lead.
Dixon, who stresses passing fundamentals, was generally pleased with the effort.
"I still didn't think we were great; we overdrove some things, a little bit too deep on some penetration," Dixon said. "We've been really passing it well in practice. I would say that's something we are doing really well. We're moving the ball well. We're unselfish. We have good passers. That's something that we've seen in practice.
"It's a strength of ours. It's always been. I think this team could be one of the best ones we've had as far as moving the ball and making the right decisions. We're known for our unselfish play. This team is unselfish, there's no question about it."
Wanamaker led the way with 10 assists, followed by Woodall with nine. Woodall played a total of 24 minutes, and seems to be earning more confidence from the head coach.
"I thought he played really well in the summer," Dixon said. "We want him to play faster. I want him to push the ball more. We're trying to get him to push the ball more and get more transition opportunities for us. I thought he did a good job today. He played well the last three or four practices. We really saw a change. He was good today."
Pitt held the rebounding edge 39-25. Because of the contributions from Pitt's backcourt players, the play in the paint was a non-factor, but a bonus too. Zanna, making the start at the four, finished 13 points and a team-best nine rebounds. Pitt also rotated J.J. Richardson at the four for a significant part of the second half. McGhee shared the five with Dante Taylor. Wanamaker said after the game that not only can Zanna score and rebound, but he does a lot to help set up the offense and defend.
"Talib is a very good player," Wanamaker said. "He can step out to 15 to 17 foot (shots) too. We've seen improvement in Talib last year. Even though he redshirted, early on, we've seen that he's maybe our best rebounder on the team. He thrives on taking chances on opportunities. When the chances come, he knows his role. His role is to get rebounds, set screens and try to get other players open. Today, we had some open opportunities, and we took advantage of it."
The Pitt defense put in a strong effort as well, building 23-0 lead in the first nine and a half minutes. Northwood didn't even get its first basket until the 11:33 mark of the first half; a putback by guard Tyrone Davis. After holding them scoreless, the Seahawks got in a groove shooting. They didn't finish too bad--shooting 42.1 percent for the game--but dug themselves too deep of a hole. Northwood was able to slow Pitt's offense down a little thanks to a full court press. Pitt found ways around it, but didn't look too comfortable facing a press this early in the season.
"We really couldn't press the first ten minutes because we couldn't score," Massimino said. "I thought we didn't do a bad job with the press. I thought we hung in there. (Pitt) threw the ball away a couple times. As soon as they start throwing the ball from one side to the other, you better watch out for Villanova."
Pitt played all 11 players that were available. In addition to Nasir Robinson, who has begun his rehab from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, the Panthers played without Gilbert Brown and Lamar Patterson.
Brown--still nursing a hamstring injury--sat out again, after sitting out last weekend's Blue-Gold scrimmage. He is taking the time now to rest in order to be 100 percent for Pitt's first regular season game against Rhode Island next Monday. He could play if needed.
The same is said for Lamar Patterson, who sat out the exhibition game due to a sprained left ankle. Patterson sprained the ankle in practice Saturday. When he woke up Sunday, the ankle was still stiff, which prevented him from playing--and starting, which he was orginially scheduled to do, according to Dixon. Patterson is expected to be back for Thursday's exhibition against Indiana (Pa.).
"He was going to be out there starting for us today, but we had to make an adjustment at game time," Dixon said. "I don't think (the injury is serious), but I'd have to gauge it again. Yesterday, I felt fine about it. Today, we were surprised by his reaction (to the pain)."