Pitt's Nasir Robinson drives to the net against Washington State in the first half of the championship series of the CBI tournament at the Petersen Events Center.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Tray Woodall reaches to save the ball against Washington State in the first half of the championship series of the CBI tournament at the Petersen Events Center.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Playing without its leading scorer for the first time all season, Pitt evened the College Basketball Invitational championship series against Washington State with a 57-53 victory Wednesday night at Petersen Events Center.
The final game of the series will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center.
Senior guard Ashton Gibbs was a late scratch due to an injury to his right ankle. Without their top shooter, the Panthers turned to their frontcourt for their scoring.
Backup center Talib Zanna had 14 points and eight rebounds, power forward Nasir Robinson and small forward Lamar Patterson added 10 points apiece.
Zanna was 4 for 4 from the field and 6 for 8 from the free-throw line.
"We expect a lot from Talib," Patterson said. "He's one of the strongest players on our team. We were getting him the ball down low where he could finish. That's where he lives. He's getting his confidence. He'll be a great asset for us next year."
Zanna has been a great asset in the first five games of the CBI. He is averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this postseason after an up-and-down regular season.
"His numbers have been a dramatic increase from what he's done all year long," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "The main thing is he is staying out of foul trouble. He has learned to play without fouling. He's been productive all year long, but he seems to get in foul trouble. The last four games he hasn't, and that has been most important in his production."
Dixon said he had no idea whether Gibbs would be ready to play in Game 3.
Washington State, playing without its leading scorer for the second consecutive game, was led by guard Reggie Moore, who scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. Cougars coach Ken Bone said there is a "slim chance" center Brock Motum, the Pac 12's leading scorer, will play Friday. Motum also has an ankle injury.
Pitt held a 42-32 lead with 10 minutes remaining, but Washington State used a 17-7 run to tie the score, 49-49, with 1:42 remaining after Moore made two free throws.
Pitt looked to Patterson on the ensuing possession, and the sophomore came through with a big shot to put the Panthers in the lead for good. After a crazy final nine seconds -- in which freshman guard John Johnson was called for a flagrant foul with Pitt up by six -- Patterson stepped to the line to nail two free throws with 3.6 seconds left after the Cougars cut the deficit to two points.
Patterson had been 1 for 7 from the field before hitting that shot. It was the second time in three games Patterson has stepped up to make a crucial play for the Panthers. He made a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in a semifinal game at Butler, a game the Panthers eventually won in overtime.
Patterson ran off a back cut and nailed a jumper from the free-throw line Wednesday night.
"I knew I had to take that shot," he said. "I was wide open. Luckily, it dropped for me."
Pitt did a much better job defending the 3-point line in Game 2 after the Cougars made 9 of 15 from behind the arc Monday night. Abe Lodwick and Patrick Simon combined for six 3-pointers in the first game, but only made one between them in Game 2.
"We wanted to do a better job on Lodwick and Simon," Dixon said. "That was a real emphasis for us. That was key for us."
Dixon started redshirt freshman Cameron Wright in place of Gibbs. He had two points, five rebounds and an assist in 18 minutes. Johnson, who played just three minutes in the Game 1 loss Monday night, scored six points in 22 minutes.
"We're getting some good experience for a lot of our guys," Dixon said. "We're getting them in a situation that will help us down the road. We got good minutes for a lot of our young guys -- Cam, John Johnson, all the sophomores -- it's great to watch them emerge. We've seen that in the last couple of games."