Ron Cook: Plenty to like about Panthers' Patterson


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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As good as Pitt's Lamar Patterson was in the 83-79 win against Maryland Saturday night, he was better after the game. Check out his response when he was asked about his excellent shot at being the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.

"I truthfully don't care about it. I'd rather be the ACC champion with my 14 other guys."

Wow.

The Pitt team is very good, 6-1 now in ACC play with mighty Duke coming to town Monday night for maybe the most anticipated regular-season game in Pitt history. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon went so far as to call the Panthers "one of the best teams I've coached against" in 26 years. "I think they're a top-five team in the country. They were terrific."

Patterson is a big reason Pitt also is a very likeable team. He sets the tone for his teammates, not just with his fine play but with his attitude. The Pitt players still have much work to do to become the best team of the Jamie Dixon era, but they might just be the most together team. They enjoy playing with one another. They play hard every game. They don't panic in difficult moments. They share the basketball.

Patterson had seven assists, including an absolute beauty on a layup by Cameron Wright that gave Pitt a 67-55 lead with 8½ minutes left. He said the assists mean just as much to him as his 28 points, if not more. The points were two shy of his career high.

"Definitely. I love passing. My favorite player was Magic Johnson. I YouTube him all the time. I don't really care about his scoring. I love the way he passed the ball more than anything."

Patterson had the huge game -- seven rebounds and four steals and just two turnovers to go along with the points and assists -- despite getting off to a slow start that included a missed layup, an offensive foul, a bad pass for another turnover and two more missed shots. He then settled in and made eight of his next 11 shots, many on drives to the basket. He also had a big game on the free-throw line, making 12 of 14 free throws. Pitt made 32 of 47 as a team, both highs in the Dixon era.

"He took what was there," Dixon said. "We maybe rode him a little too much in the second half. We do have other options. But he's a good guy to go to too much, I guess."

Patterson had two spurts that were significant in the win. He scored his first points with 8:26 left in the first half when he made two free throws to give Pitt an 18-16 lead. He also scored the next five points for the Panthers, two on a jump shot and three free throws to push the lead to 23-18. In the second half, he was involved in six consecutive Pitt points that made the score 55-46. His steal and assist led to a fastbreak layup by James Robinson. He then made a driving layup and two more free throws.

"Being a leader, I wanted to make sure I put an impact on this game," Patterson said.

Dixon preached to his players in the days leading up to the game not to look past Maryland to Duke. It turns out Patterson delivered the same speech a few times. That despite the fact Pitt beat Maryland, 79-59, Jan. 6 at Petersen Events Center.

"We know what Maryland is capable of," Patterson said. "They have a lot of pieces that make them really dangerous. We don't want to look past anyone in our conference."

Patterson is taking the same attitude into the Duke game. Pittsburgh might be excited to see iconic coach Mike Krzyzewski bring his Duke team to town, but Patterson said he and his teammates aren't buying into the hype.

"We just want to win another conference game. We don't care who it's against. I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Duke this' and 'Duke that.' We know they have a great program, but it's just another conference game to us. It's not the Super Bowl."

That's true, but it's still an important game for Pitt. Duke, which gave Krzyzewski his 900th win at the school Saturday with a lopsided victory against Florida State, has won four in a row after losing conference road games earlier this season to Notre Dame and Clemson. It is right behind Pitt in the league standings with a 5-2 record.

It's also an important game for Patterson. Another big performance under the brightest of lights could go a long way toward carrying him to that ACC Player of the Year award. Duke freshman Jabari Parker gets more publicity and should be a top-five pick in the NBA draft this spring, but Patterson is having a better year. He went into the games Saturday as the only player in the conference to rank in the top five in scoring, field-goal percentage and assists.

Of course, Patterson cares only about one set of numbers.

Pitt's 18-2 record.

You have to like that kid, don't you?


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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