Pitt closed out its two-game exhibition schedule with a 76-67 win over Kentucky Wesleyan, before a crowd of 6,536 fans at the Petersen Events Center on Monday night. Lamar Patterson came off the bench to lead Pitt with 22 points, followed by 20 points from Ashton Gibbs. Cardell McFarland led Kentucky Wesleyan with 16 points, followed by Brandon Johnson with 12 points.
Despite some early foul trouble from Dante Taylor, Pitt got a nice collective effort from Talib Zanna, Malcolm Gilbert and Khem Birch. Zanna led the team with nine rebounds. Travon Woodall had a game-high 11 assists. Nasir Robinson—who had knee surgery on October 14, and was expected to be out at least a month—started Monday night's game. Robinson played 10 minutes—all in the first half—and finished with six points and four rebounds.
Pitt started off slow, shooting just 1-of-4 from the field with two turnovers and a pair of shots blocked by the opposition. Kentucky Wesleyan wasn't doing anything special—just a high-pressure man defense. Pitt couldn't get in position for any good shots. Kentucky Wesleyan hit two three-pointers in its first three tries, on its way to an early 9-4 lead.
Dante Taylor picked up his second foul just four and a half minutes into the game, not helping matters. He was forced to the bench, bringing in Talib Zanna to fill in. Taylor would not return in the first half.
While Pitt was doing a good job turning the ball over early, they couldn't even get the lucky breaks on forcing turnovers. Shortly after Khem Birch entered the game, he pushed a fast break, feeding to a cutting Lamar Patterson. Patterson's driving layup bounced off the glass. Kentucky Wesleyan answered with its own layup off the glass, before Patterson made up for his mistake earlier—hitting a three-pointer—making it a 13-9 game with 13:30 left in the first half.
Patterson hit his second three-pointer, as Pitt pulled within one, 13-12. They still couldn't get any stops underneath on the defensive end. Despite a blocked shot by Birch—who inadvertently stuck his arms up, and blocked a shot in the process—he collided with teammate Zanna when trying to come down for the rebound. Patterson was there for the follow-through on a missed alley-oop from Travon Woodall to Zanna. Kentucky Wesleyan got another three from Aaron Gilstrap, and still led 20-18.
Nasir Robsinon added a pair of free throws—his first points of the night at the 8:00 mark, and Pitt's first trip to the foul line of the night. Gilstrap added another offensive rebound underneath, keeping his team up. Cameron Wright then answered with a long-range jumper just inside the three-point line. Cornbread Walker answered for Kentucky Wesleyan with another layup underneath, his team up 26-22 with 7:21 left in the first half.
That's when Malcolm Gilbert came in. In his first three minutes of action, Gilbert pulled down three defensive rebounds—something the Panthers had struggled with to this point of the game. They started moving the ball better on offense, quicker. Robinson moved through with a layup underneath, followed by a drive to the hole from Gibbs. Pitt took a 28-27 lead with just under six minutes left in the half.
Gilbert finished with four defensive rebounds and a blocked shot in seven minutes of action in the first half, while Zanna had a blocked shot and a steal. The play of both players—filling in for Taylor, on the bench with two fouls—inspired Pitt to make a strong run to close the half. Zanna's steal led to Gibbs' layup. His blocked shot led to a layup by Patterson at the 3:00 mark. Pitt surged ahead 32-29. Patterson added another drive, 36-31 with 1:31 left. He led the Panthers with 14 in the first half alone. Gibbs added a pair of three-pointers to close the scoring for the first half. He finished with 12 points in the half. Despite trailing and getting outplayed for much of the half, the Panthers took a 42-33 lead in the locker room.
Panthers went back to almost the same lineup that started the game, for the second half. Woodall, Gibbs, Moore and Taylor all returned to start. The only exception was Zanna for Robinson.
Pitt got a quick bucket from Gibbs to start the second half, and Taylor returned to the lineup. Taylor—who had to sit on the bench 16 minutes after getting two quick fouls—responded out of the gate with two buckets, a defensive rebound and two blocked shots in the first four minutes of the second half. Pitt extended its lead, 48-37.
Even though it looked like Jamie Dixon easing Robinson back into the starting lineup, just three and a half weeks after his knee surgery, Zanna showed why he was in there to start the second half. He drained a long-range jumper from the wing, and grabbed a pair of defensive rebounds. Pitt led 54-43 with 11:59 left in the game. After the hot start from Taylor, Gilbert came in for him and blocked his second shot of the game.
Birch—who played sparingly, yet came up with a couple of rebounds—came up with a strong finish on a dunk, giving Pitt a 59-45 lead. Patterson then went over 20 points with a jumper from the wing. Pitt led 65-48, just under the 10:00 mark. Birch later ended a five-minute scoring drought with another offensive rebound, followed by a layup. It was a five-minute scoring drought, but actually six minutes without a field goal. Pitt continued to run out the clock, up 69-56, with 2:08 left. The freshman from Montreal finished the game with six points and four rebounds in 14 minutes of action, and was a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.
Kentucky Wesleyan didn't go away easily in the game's final minutes. With Pitt up by 13, and Jamie Dixon going to his bench—inserting Durand Johnson, John Johnson and Isaiah Epps with just under two minutes in the game—they made it a 74-67 game with 18 seconds left after a three-point play from McFarland.
Dixon went back to his starters after that. Marseilles Stewart fouled out of the game on the ensuing in-bounds pass. Gibbs, now back in the game, sunk a pair of free throws to wrap up the 76-67 win.
Stay tuned for more postgame reaction from the Petersen Events Center.