Twenty NBA scouts sat courtside to watch a couple of highly regarded prospects in Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum and Pitt's Steven Adams Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center. Neither lived up to the hype 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) advanced to play to the semifinals Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers are seeded fourth in the tournament and will play top seed Michigan, which won also won Tuesday night, beating Cleveland State, 77-47.
McCollum, a preseason All-American and projected first-round draft pick, scored 17 points, but he was barely noticeable for long stretches. The Panthers frustrated him, forced him into bad shots, bad fouls and five turnovers. They 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 most of the game.
"That's a freshman, man," senior point guard Tray Woodall said afterward. "He went out there and did a heck of a job against a senior and one of the elite players in the country.
"We made him take tough shots, and he wasn't too much of a factor in the game. They have a really solid team. We knew he was the head, and we wanted to eliminate the head. That's what we did tonight. We contained him and forced other guys to take shots."
One of the key moments came with six minutes remaining in the first half. Robinson got McCollum to take an offensive foul away from the ball. It was his second foul and forced him to the bench for nearly the remainder of the half. Pitt outscored Lehigh, 11-5, over the final 4:45 of the half to take a five-point halftime lead.
"I knew the coaches had the trust in me to check him," Robinson said. "I could be aggressive because I knew I had four guys behind me who could help."
Lehigh shot 39 percent for the game and 32 percent in the second half when Pitt outscored the Mountain Hawks, 43-23. Take away McCollum's 7-for-11 shooting, and the rest of Lehigh's players were a combined 9 for 30 from the field. The Mountain Hawks also committed 15 turnovers.
"They did an excellent job defensively," Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. "Not only did they neutralize C.J. McCollum, but they limited us to one shot and they forced more turnovers, more than what we're characteristically about."
In addition to the stifling defense, the Panthers received strong offensive efforts from Woodall and junior forward Talib Zanna. Woodall scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half. Zanna scored 20 points for the second time in the first three contests, going 8 for 9 from the field.
Pitt owned the boards, outrebounding the Mountain Hawks, 38-22. They pulled down 14 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second-chance points. They also outscored Lehigh, 36-12, in the lane.
"Their size differential made a difference," Reed said. "After leaning on someone for an entire game, it becomes almost like a heavyweight fight. You start to tire out."
The victory was important because it ensured at least one game against an opponent from major conference next week. After 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 took a lead shortly after McCollum sat down late in the first half and never looked back.
The Panthers took a 35-30 into the intermission, and Zanna picked up where he left off after a strong first half. He scored seven points in a two-minute span to begin the second. His offensive rebound and put-back made it 42-35. That ignited a 9-0 run. Woodall scored five of those points, including a deep 3-pointer that gave Pitt a 14-point lead and forced Reed to call a timeout.
That briefly stopped the bleeding. After a McCollum basket, Woodall made a 3-pointer. 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."