Senior leaders Patterson, Zanna show they have what it takes

PITT BASKETBALL


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It is true Pitt has a good class of freshmen and some talented underclassmen, and that means the future for the Panthers should be very bright.

But their 78-69 win against Penn State Tuesday in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Petersen Events Center also was a reminder that there is no substitute for senior leadership and experience when it comes to winning tight games.

When the Panthers, who struggled offensively for long stretches of the game, needed a spark in the second half to make a surge, they turned to seniors Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson -- and the two delivered.

Zanna and Patterson combined for only six points in the first half, but in the second they combined for 26. Zanna also had a huge steal and blocked four second-half shots.

"That's what the [younger players] expect from us as senior leaders," Patterson said. "But it wasn't just offensively, it was defensively, as well. Talib got a block and then the steal, and I think that is Pitt basketball right there, doing it on both ends of the floor."

Zanna said in the first half that he wasn't as aggressive as he needed to be, but he knew in the second half that the Panthers would get back to their game plan of trying to get the ball inside and take advantage of an area where the Nittany Lions have struggled.

Pitt guard James Robinson said the two seniors took over in the second half.

"I was in foul trouble for the majority of the game, so when I got back into the game late I just tried to bring some energy and help us win," Robinson said. "But I thought Talib and Lamar did a great job of putting us on their back [Tuesday night] and when I got back in, I just wanted to contribute any way I could.

"I thought [Patterson and Zanna] brought more energy in the second half than we had to start the game. Talib had a lot of energy on both ends of the court and Lamar, with his playmaking ability, got us going and the younger guys just follow their lead and rallied around them."

Patterson, the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week, has been Pitt's best player this season. But in a number of games, Zanna has carried the team through tough stretches when they struggled to make shots.

Zanna finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday and Patterson had 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.

"We didn't say it verbally to each other, but we knew we needed to play better," Patterson said. "Being older guys, we knew that we just had to take it to another level and get the job done, and the younger guys stepped up and did a great job. It was a team effort."

Coach Jamie Dixon loved the effort from Zanna and Patterson in the second half and the way they took control of the game, but he laughed when asked about their leadership late in the game.

"I wish they would have stepped up in the first half and played the way we had talked about and had seen them play," Dixon said.

Although the two seniors came through in the second half, the Panthers also got a great effort from freshman guard Josh Newkirk, who played a season-high 25 minutes and was on the floor for most of the critical moments of the second half.

Newkirk saw increased time because Robinson was in foul trouble. He only scored five points and grabbed three rebounds, but Dixon said his decision-making and ability to run the team were as much a key to the win as anything.

"I thought Josh was tremendous. You have a young point guard playing solid basketball," Dixon said. "The thing is, he is maybe our fastest, quickest guy and a guy we have spent a lot of time trying to slow down, but in this game he was out there slowing us down.

"He made some aggressive drives, then he backed it off a few times and made simple plays and stayed on the ground. I thought he was really good and we kept him in there because of that. He is a great kid and we are fortunate to have a sophomore and a freshman point guard who are both great kids."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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