Pitt had to stage a second half comeback, coming out on top with a 78-69 win over Penn State, Pitt's debut in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Panthers got a pair of strong performances from its seniors, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. Zanna had 14 of his 16 points in the second half, Patterson 12 of his 16. James Robinson was in foul trouble for most of the game. Over the final seven minutes, he came up with six points, a steal and an assist--all part of his ten points.
Even bigger for Zanna, a career-high four blocked shots that highlighted his defensive effort.
It was a pretty close game early on. At the same time, Frazier set his tone by connecting on a long two, giving Penn State an early 2-0 lead.
Pitt had three chances to take its first lead of the game, and came away with three misses. Penn State had its chances to extend its lead. They also came away with three misses.
In the first seven minutes of the game, the score was tied five times. Neither team led by more than two. That was until Frazier hit a jumper, getting fouled by Jamel Artis. Frazier converted the free throw, giving Penn State its biggest of the game to that point, 13-10. Strangely, it was the start of a four-minute scoring drought for the Nittany Lions.
Pitt was able to answer. Cameron Wright knocked down a pair of free throws to give Pitt its first lead, 15-13, with 8:06 left in the first half.
Frazier ended that four-minute scoring drought for Penn State. He took it all the way down to the wire on the shot clock, tying it back up at 15-15, on a drive.
Pitt had no answer for Frazier, who scored 13 of Penn State's first 19 points. Dixon tried matching up Wright against Frazier, taking a chance by having Robinson guard 6-7 Brandon Taylor in the paint. Taylor got his first points of the game with Robinson on him, and Drew Robinson's second foul of the game, sending him back to the bench.
Though Pitt answered again, D.J Newbill answered with a pair of buckets. Pittsburgh native Geno Thorpe gave the Nittany Lions a 26-21, with 4:19 left in the half.
Then, there was a little scuffle under the Pitt basket after a whistle. With Penn State up 28-23, approaching the two-minute mark of the first half, Mike Young took exception to a foul by Allen Roberts. No punches were thrown, but all ten players on the court were in the middle of it, trying to keep Young, Roberts and Thorpe separated.
Young answered by converting both free throws. It also sparked a 7-0 run for Pitt. Their offense--asleep for most of the first half--showed more sign of life in the final two minutes than they did in the first 18.
On the next possession, Durand Johnson came up with a loose ball, then quickly fed to Josh Newkirk, who had a season-high 25 minutes. Newkirk, seemingly comfortable in transition, rushed up the court, and found an open Patterson. Patterson tipped in an easy layup, making it a 28-25 game. Newkirk played nine minutes in the first half because of Robinson's two fouls.
On the next possession, a three-pointer from Johnson tied it back up at 28-28, approaching a minute to go in the half. Frazier answered again, hitting a jumper from up top with just 26 seconds left in the half. He led all scorers with 15 points in the first half.
Zanna had a close inside look with time expiring. It didn't bounce in. The Nittany Lions took a 30-28 lead in to halftime.
Maybe the tussle underneath the Pitt basket with two minutes to go was just the fire that Pitt needed.
Wright added a jumper to give Pitt a 33-32 lead, early in the second half. Newbill quickly answered for Penn State with a three-pointer, as the Nittany Lions went back up 35-33. Roberts added another on the next possession, as Penn State went up 38-33, just four minutes into the second half.
Even worse, Robinson picked up his third foul, sending him to the bench once again.
Penn State also got into some foul trouble. Both Taylor and Frazier picked up their third respective fouls. Pitt converted all four of those free throw attempts, cutting the Penn State lead to 42-41. Frazier went to the bench.
With no answer for Frazier, Pitt had an opportunity to capitalize, and they did. On the very next possession, Zanna came up with the steal and score. Pitt regained the lead, 42-41, 13:37 left in the game. Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers had to call timeout.
It remained a back-and-forth game. Neither team could go up by any more than two points, just like we saw early on in the first half.
That was until Patterson drove to the basket off a feed from Newkirk. Then, Patterson returned the favor, feeding to Zanna. Zanna finished it off with a layup, drawing the foul from Jack, his fourth.
As foul trouble was starting to plague Penn State, so was Zanna. He had 12 of Pitt's 23 second half points giving them a 51-47 lead with 10:38 remaining.
Jack had a tip-in, giving the Nittany Lions a 59-58 lead, hovering around the five-minute mark. Pitt got the lead back on its next possession, a pair of free throws by Robinson.
Zanna, again, came down with the defensive rebound on Penn State's next try. He worked the ball up to Patterson who hit a big three-pointer. Pitt led 63-48, just over four minutes left. Chambers had to call another timeout.
It worked, as Roberts answered with a three. Penn State trailed by just one. 63-62, now under four minutes to play.
Zanna block set up a finish from Patterson to Robinson. Pitt led 65-52,
Then, it was Robinson, who didn't have the best night. Playing in foul trouble the entire game, he came up with a steal and score, giving Pitt a 67-62 lead, approaching the two-minute mark. Since returning at the 7:10 mark, Robinson had six points, a steal and an assist, over which time Pitt built its lead to five.
It was the final dagger, or at the very least, the comfort level Pitt was look for, the entire game. The Panthers led by five or more points through the final three minutes of the game.
It was another stellar performance for Pitt from the free throw line--something not seen too often from Jamie Dixon teams. Pitt converted 28-35 free throws, 80 percent for the game.