It's no wonder that the Zips' fifth-year coach was so effusive in his praise, because senior forward Sam Young scored 26 points in 31 minutes, while sophomore center DeJuan Blair tallied 16 points and 13 rebounds to lead Pittsburgh to an 86-67 win against Akron in the Legends Classic Regional Round 1 Friday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt (3-0) faces IUP (2-0), a Divison II team, Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Pete.
"We have a very young team,'' Dambrot said. "I wish we could've come in here with the team we had two years ago, but we're going to get better. Obviously, Pitt is a good team. They're very strong inside and manhandled us on the back-boards. Blair bullies the Big East, so he's certainly going to bully the MAC.''
It's understandable that the Akron coach would make that assessment, because the Panthers out-rebounded the Zips 29-9 in the first half. That's amazing. And when one considers that Blair had 10 first-half boards, that makes Pitt's back-board dominance even more spectacular. It was his 16th career double-double.
Senior Tyrell Biggs added 11 rebounds, matching his career-high, while Young added six boards. Pitt held a 22-8 advantage in offensive rebounds and a 41-24 advantage overall. Senior point guard Levance Fields tallied 19 points and seven assists in 29 minutes for the Panthers.
"It's always out goal to out-rebound a team by 10 to 15 or 20,'' Blair said. "Last week, we didn't really do a good job in the beginning with our rebounding, but Tyrell got us off to a good start. He did an excellent job and really gave us a spark in the beginning.''
Even though the lead changed hands four times in the early going, Pitt eventually took control in the first half with a nine-point lead about seven minutes in. Young had a three-point play, while Biggs and Blair had two offensive put-backs each to help the Panthers build their lead.
That advantage reached 11 points, 28-17, with 7:41 left before halftime on sophomore Bradley Wanamaker's 3-pointer and free throw. Pitt then pulled off a 10-0 run punctuated by a lob from Fields to Young for a two-handed slam. It was one of three that Young put down. He also missed a tomahawk dunk that actually appeared to inspire him. One of Blair's five steals also ended in a slam.
"I think we played really good on offense and defense in the first half,'' Young said, as Pitt stretched its lead to 19 points with four minutes remaining and eventually took a 45-27 advantage into the locker room.
"But we kind of got sloppy in the second half and lost our focus, but we were up by 20. Not to take anything away from them, but we lost some intensity after the big run. I think if the game was a little closer in the second half, we would have maintained our intensity.''
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon blamed it on his substitution pattern. He was a little more liberal with putting in freshmen Ashton Gibbs, Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson and sophomores Wanamaker and Gary McGhee. The quintet actually was on the floor all at the same time for an extended period in the second half, as Akron cut into the Panthers' lead a bit.
"I came in with the mindset that I needed to hit the boards a lot harder,'' Biggs said. "So, I was able to do that in the first half. We still did a good job rebounding in the second half, but the game kind of slowed down a bit in the second half. And we lost our momentum.''
That's probably because Akron fouled a great deal, 30 times overall with two players fouling out, and nobody made the Zips regret that more than Fields. He was 12-for-14 from the line, while Young made 6 of 7 free throws. Blair's only deficiency was his free-throw shooting where he missed six straight after starting out with a 4-for-4 streak and was 4 of 10 overall.
"We took Levance out early, and I wanted to try something different,'' Dixon said. "So, I probably stopped our momentum. We didn't play as well in the second half, but that's tough when you're up by 20. ... I thought we were really passing the ball well, but we could have shot it a little better.''
Biggs scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting, while Jermaine Dixon added four points and three rebounds. However, he missed all three attempts from 3-point range. Gibbs led the subs with five points in 13 minutes, while Wanamaker and Robinson had four points each in nine and 11 minutes, respectively. Woodall had two points, and McGhee did not score in seven minutes.
Sophomore forward Brett McKnight led Akron (2-1) with 23 points, while Nate Linhart added 11 and four assists.
Pitt 86, Akron 67
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