Twenty NBA scouts sat courtside to watch a couple of highly regarded prospects in Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum and Pitt's Steven Adams tonight at the Petersen Events Center. Neither lived up to the hype on this night, but Pitt's role players proved much better than Lehigh's in a 78-53 runaway victory in the NIT Tip-Off Tournament.
Pitt (3-0) advances to play in the semifinal round of the tournament Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers are seeded fourth in the tournament and will play top seed Michigan, which won also won tonight, beating Cleveland State, 77-47.
McCollum, a preseason All-American and projected first-round draft pick scored 17 points. The Panthers held him without a point for a 19:24 stretch, including the final 14:27 of the first half.
Pitt freshman guard James Robinson guarded McCollum for much of the game and got him to take an offensive foul out of frustration with six minutes remaining in the first half. It was his second foul and forced him to the bench for almost the remainder of the half.
Pitt took a lead shortly after McCollum exited the game and never looked back. The Panthers blew the Mountain Hawks away with a strong second-half performance.
Pitt received excellent offensive efforts from senior guard Tray Woodall and junior forward Talib Zanna. Woodall scored 23 points and Zanna 20.
The victory was important because it ensured at least one game against an opponent from a major conference next week. Because the Panthers were left out of the Big East/SEC Challenge they did not have another game scheduled against a foe from a major conference.
Pitt led 35-30 at the intermission. Zanna picked up where he left off after a strong first half and scored seven points in a two-minute span. His offensive rebound and put-back made it 42-35. That bucket ignited a 9-0 run for the Panthers. Woodall scored five of those points, including a deep 3-pointer that gave Pitt a 14-point lead and forced Lehigh coach Brett Reed to call a timeout.
That only stopped the bleeding for a few moments. After a McCollum basket, Woodall made a 3-pointer and then Zanna and Trey Zeigler scored to make it a 19-point bulge.
Lehigh never recovered. After McCollum missed a shot with five minutes to go, the Oakland Zoo began chanting "overrated."
Pitt held a five-point lead at halftime after scoring 11 of the final 16 points of the half. Zanna led the way for the Panthers in the first 20 minutes with 11 points.
The Panthers took control early with a 10-0 run and took a 12-5 lead after Lamar Patterson converted a 3-point play, but Lehigh called a timeout and regrouped. After the timeout, the Mountain Hawks went on an 11-1 run and momentarily seized a 16-13 lead.
The lead changed hands five times over the next few minutes until McCollum picked up his second foul with six minutes remaining in the half.
With McCollum on the bench, the Panthers were able to regain control. Woodall knocked down a 3-pointer for a 27-25 lead with 4:45 left before halftime. It was the first bucket of that 11-5 run to end the half. Woodall would get two more points on free throws, and Dante Taylor, Durand Johnson and Steven Adams would all make baskets in the final four minutes. Adams' hoop came with one second remaining before the buzzer after a nice feed from Woodall.
The Panthers shot 43 percent (12 for 28) in the first half while Lehigh shot 47 percent (9 for 19). Each team went 10 for 13 from the foul line.
McCollum had seven points in the first half, but he did not score in the final 14:27. Mountain Hawks forward Gabe Knutson kept his team in it with McCollum out of the game by scoring four of his eight first-half points in the final 4:26 of the half.
Woodall had nine points in the first 20 minutes, including seven in the final 6:18.
Note: Pitt has won 115 of its 119 games against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.