Pitt basketball adjusts for comeback in win against Detroit

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Pitt proved once again that no lead is too large to overcome. For the second time in the past three home games the Panthers got behind by double digits to a mid-major opponent and stormed back to win.

Saturday night, the Panthers erased a 13-point first-half deficit to beat Detroit, 74-61, at Petersen Events Center. The victory came two weeks after the Panthers erased a 16-point second-half deficit to beat Oakland University.

Coach Jamie Dixon has proven to be the master of second-half adjustments in these games. Now only if he can figure out a way to make the opponents adjust to the Panthers early in games instead of the other way around.

The biggest halftime adjustment Saturday was switching sophomore guard Cameron Wright onto Detroit's Ray McCallum to start the second half. McCallum, who carried the Titans with 17 points in the first half, was held scoreless for the first 9 minutes, 41 seconds of the second half and finished with 24 points.

"Cam Wright stepped up big-time in the second half and contained him," said freshman point guard James Robinson, who guarded McCallum in the first half. "He really did a great job on him. Cam was playing better defense than I was tonight, so that's what we went with."

McCallum was 5 for 6 from the field in the first half and only 2 for 7 in the second half.

"Their plan was they wanted to give him special attention," Detroit coach Ray McCallum Sr. said. "Pitt is such a great help defense team. It kind of wore him down."

Pitt's offense heated up in the second half, too. After shooting 36 percent in the first half the Panthers shot 64 percent in the second half. They were 4 for 6 from 3-point range after halftime and finished 8 for 17 from behind the arc for the game.

"Better penetration, better ball reversal," Dixon said. "Why we didn't do that in the first half? ... That's what we emphasized in the past two days. We're not doing it from the beginning. I don't know why that is. But we can send guys in who know what to do."

The Panthers began to pull away midway through the second half when Dixon went to his bench and played a smaller lineup. He sat starting center Steven Adams and his backup Dante Taylor in favor of Talib Zanna at center and J.J. Moore at power forward.

The score was tied, 49-49, with 8:20 remaining, but the small lineup sparked a 14-2 run that provided a 63-51 lead with 4:02 remaining.

Zanna scored seven of his team-high 16 points in that spurt. Robinson also made some big shots in the stretch. He nailed a jumper from the free-throw line for a 57-49 lead and later made a 3-pointer to make it 60-51.

"Those guys are a little more effective against the zone," Dixon said. "We can play small, we can play big. That was important for us."

Senior guard Tray Woodall scored 14 points and played an important role in the first half. While no one else on the team made more than one field goal in the first 20 minutes, Woodall scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and kept the margin manageable.

"In the first half we were down early, and I wanted to pick the team up," Woodall said. "I wanted to be more aggressive."

Lamar Patterson scored 9 of his 12 points after halftime, and Robinson scored 9 of his 11 after the intermission.

McCallum said Pitt's ability to shoot well from 3-point range was the difference. Woodall was 4 for 5 from 3-point range and Durand Johnson was 2 for 3 from behind the arc. They made back-to-back 3-pointers 48 seconds apart midway through the second half to give Pitt a 45-41 lead. It was Pitt's first lead since 8-5 in the opening minutes of the game. The Panthers never trailed again.

"It was time for someone to prove they could make shots," McCallum said. "We didn't want them to beat us in the paint. We wanted them to make contested threes, and they did a great job with that tonight. The second half was huge. We knew they'd make a run, and they wore us down."

NOTES: Adams had two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes. ... Taylor did not score and had one rebound in 13 minutes. ... Pitt was 18 for 23 from the free-throw line. ... After shooting 48 percent in the first half, Detroit shot 32 percent in the second half.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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