Exactly three years ago, Pittsburgh suffered its only non-conference loss to Patriot League team Bucknell at the Petersen Events Center, but despite a building-record 17 opponent 3-pointers the Panthers pulled away to a 96-75 win against Lafayette Wednesday night at the Pete.
"It was everything I could have hoped for even though we're a new team,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We're not feeling sorry for ourselves, but the fact remains that we're playing without two guys who were playing major minutes for us. And we had to become a new team the past couple days.''
This was no small feat for Pitt, since it was without starters Mike Cook and Levance Fields. But the Patriot League's Leopards had something to say about it as well with a sizzling 11-for-18 from 3-point range in the first half to take a 41-39 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The 13th-ranked Panthers (12-1), however, went on a 19-10 run during the first six minutes in the second half and never looked back. Pitt's lead reached an apex of 26 points, 93-67 with nearly two minutes remaining, as redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown drilled a 3-pointer. Brown started his second straight game at small forward for Cook, while senior Ronald Ramon moved to point guard from the two spot for Fields and was flawless. Senior Keith Benjamin came off the bench to start at shooting guard.
"For me, it all starts in practice,'' Ramon said. "Every single day, we go at each other to make each other better. I played the point a lot in practice, and the coach has confidence in me to play there. I came out here tonight, and my teammates showed that they have confidence in me.
"So, things definitely went well. I'm not going to say that I expected it to go this way, but it went really well. We came out and were prepared to play, and it showed in the second half. Physically, I'm all right. I just have to keep up with my rehab, and I'll continue to get better. So, that's what I'm going to do.''
Ramon tallied 11 points (3-for-4 shooting), 10 assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes. Benjamin had career highs with 20 points (7-9) and five assists in 32 minutes to go with two rebounds. Brown scored 10 points (3-5), but fouled out after 24 minutes. Junior forward Sam Young was inconsistent, but added 19 points (7-13) and seven rebounds with five turnovers in 30 minutes. Frosh center DeJuan Blair added nine points (3-6) and three boards with a blocked shot, three assists and four steals in 25 minutes.
"This definitely is what I envisioned,'' Benjamin said. "It's not about the points. I had a big night, but the five assists are what mattered to me the most. I wanted to get five rebounds a game as well, but I didn't get there. So, that's something I have to get in the next game, and I'll be working hard for that.
"But we knew since we didn't have our star point guard that teams are going to come after us with different defenses to try to pressure us more, but I feel that Ronald and me can be great playmakers as well. And he had 10 assists, so that was a big thing for us. He made the right passes at the right time.''
Pitt used a seven-man rotation against Lafayette (8-5), which shot a sizzling 56 percent in the first half (14-for-25 overall). The Panthers shot 80 percent in the second half (20-25, including 8-9 from 3-point range) to pull away. Junior Tyrell Biggs tallied 19 points (9-11) and four offensive rebounds with two blocks and a steal in 26 minutes. The points and minutes were career-highs. Freshman Bradley Wanamaker played 23 minutes, just rejoining the lineup at Dayton after a three-game absence, and scored five points (2-3) with two assists, two rebounds and a steal.
"I had a pretty big night,'' Biggs said. "I knew I would have to step up, and they got the ball to me. Ronald had 10 assists, so he was moving the ball well and found a lot of open guys.
"That allowed me to get some good open shots, but I also know that I have to hit the boards harder to pick up the slack for the rebounds because we need to do that as well as score.''
While the contributions from Ramon and Benjamin were obvious, Biggs, Brown and Wanamaker did things that weren't as evident on the stat sheet. All three appeared to be more comfortable as their playing time increased. Sure, Biggs scored a lot, but he didn't launch any treys. He scored four baskets off his four offensive rebounds. The negative aspect was that he didn't get any defensive boards against smaller competition.
Blair clearly plays better against tougher inside players, and that should benefit Pitt in Big East play. Wanamaker was the primary sub at the two and three spots, but he finished the game at the point and didn't do too badly. Junior-college transfer Cassin Diggs played two minutes in a mop-up role with two fouls and one turnover. Another was averted as a Lafayette player lost the ball out of bounds.
Pitt Lights Up Lafayette, 96-75
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