Pitt Holds Off Maryland 79-70

Panthers advance to the championship game on Friday night, thanks a big performance on defense, specifically rebounding. Pitt was able to overcome 15 turnovers in the win.

Maryland was looking to run, while Pitt played multiple styles in a 79-70 win over Maryland at Madison Square Garden, in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. It marked only Pitt's second-ever win over Maryland, its first since a 89-86 overtime win in 1978. The Terps lead the overall series 5-2.

The emphasis entering the game was shutting down heralded Maryland center Jordan Williams, who entered the game with a double-double in each of his first three games, including back-to-back game with 15 rebounds. It was Talib Zanna who stole the show, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds; his first career double-double in just his fourth collegiate game.

Zanna's performance sparked Pitt to a 43-23 edge on the boards, including 11 offensive rebounds. In the first three games, the guards have stolen the show--mainly Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs. Both players entered the game averaging 19.3 points a game. Wanamaker finished with 10 points, while Gibbs had 13. Travon Woodall and Gilbert Brown also finished in double figures for the Panthers, each chipping in 11.

Though Pitt had trouble sustaining the lead from Maryland in the first ten minutes of the first half, the Panthers established a presence on the offensive boards, which they held throughout the game. Despite being strong on the offensive glass, Pitt was having trouble finishing inside. Both Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor missed layups off feeds, as Maryland built a 15-13 lead.

Nasir Robinson, playing in his first game back, was big on the defensive side, coming up with a steal on his first shift--a ball that looked like it was thrown right to him. Pitt was creating turnovers, but not finishing. The defense kept them in it enough, that when the offense came around at the end of the first half with a 10-2 run, Pitt went to the locker room with a 31-27 lead.

Pitt carried that 10-2 run into the second half, getting a jumper, then an easy layup from Zanna, to go up 35-27. Gary Williams called a timeout for Maryland, as Pitt was still rolling from the momentum they created late in the first half.

Pitt only shot 30 percent from three-point range (3-10) for the game, but Gibbs came up with a big three-pointer to extend Pitt's lead to 42-29. Pitt was having success playing it's half-court game, but also pushing the tempo--something they've wanted to establish this season, and something that Maryland is used to doing well. Pitt went on a 11-4 run to start the second half; a 21-6 run if you go back to the final four minutes of the first half.

Maryland answered, thanks to the press. Pitt turned the ball over five times, and shot just two field goals in its next four shots, as the press and Maryland's defense gave the Panther's a tough time. The Terrapins tied the game at 46-46 on a three-point play by Berend Weijs; a layup, followed by the free throw.

It wasn't the cleanest game for Pitt--10 assists to 15 turnovers, not to mention 10 assists on 25 field goals. The rebounding edge helped offset the turnovers, while also helping to push the transition. Pitt built its lead back up to 66-56 with 6:23 left as Woodall drove the length of the court, and hit a jumper just inside three-point range. Maryland called timeout again. During that four-minute stretch, the Panthers held a 10-2 rebounding edge, which included two offensive rebounds, that resulted in a total of four second-chance points.

The last time Maryland called a timeout, they were able to rally and come back from a 13-point deficit, to tie the game. Over the final six minutes, they were not successful. Though they connected on 5-of-11 shots in the final six minutes, Maryland hit just two three-pointers, and was a dreadful 14-of-26 from the free throw line for the game. All those factors were contributors, in addition to Zanna's big night.

Pitt awaits the winner of the Texas-Illinois game. The Panthers will meet that winner at 7 pm Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

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