Pitt opens lock on NCAA tournament berth


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NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Pitt survived the week it could not afford to lose to given opponents and, as a result, has moved closer to the "virtual lock" category for the NCAA tournament.

Pitt is 22-7 overall, 10-6 in the ACC and has assured itself a winning conference record with two games left.

The Panthers also assured themselves a bye in the ACC tournament next week. With one win or a Clemson loss, they will put themselves in position to finish fifth in the league, one spot better than where they were projected.

But coach Jamie Dixon said none of that really matters at this point as the sole focus is on winning the next game.

And that quest starts at 9 p.m. today when the Panthers play North Carolina State (17-12, 7-9) at Petersen Events Center in a rematch of a game Pitt won, 74-62, Jan. 4 in Raleigh, N.C.

In that game the Panthers fell behind, 17-2, but came storming back and shot 63 percent in the second half after trailing, 34-26, at the half.

Pitt senior Lamar Patterson said he remembers that game well because it was the first game the Panthers played as a member of the ACC and they got in a hole so quickly they didn't know what hit them.

But he said it was a lot like the Notre Dame game Saturday in which they steadily fought back and found a way to win.

He said he is motivated to get the 11th ACC win, but he also wants to make sure this, his final game at Petersen Events Center, is a good memory for him.

Pitt had senior night Feb. 23 against Florida State because it was their final weekend home game and it was easier for the players' families to travel for the ceremony.

But those festivities were ruined when the Seminoles pulled a mild upset, 71-66, and sent them on the road in desperate need of the two wins.

"We will be ready, we need to rest up and get our bodies right," Patterson said after the Panthers beat Notre Dame, 85-81, Saturday in overtime. "This means a lot, my last home game, last game at the Pete. I want to make sure we go out with a 'W.' I let Pittsburgh down with a loss on senior night so why not go out and get a 'W' in our last game at the Pete."

Pitt had been in a three-game slide and had lost five of seven before a win Wednesday against Boston College. The two-game winning streak has been a nice reversal of fortunes.

One key statistic from the win against the Irish that is clearly something the Panthers need to continue, especially into the postseason -- free-throw shooting.

Pitt had lost a couple of games in that stretch because of average free-throw shooting.

But Saturday the Panthers made 24 of 28 (85.7 percent) free throws in the game which included 14 of 15 in the overtime period.

Dixon said that was a great sign for his team, which had been very good earlier in the season from the line.

"We haven't shot as well as I'd like to, but we made them down the stretch [Saturday]," Dixon said. "We went 24 of 28, and that's pretty good and we did a great job, especially since it was different guys in there getting fouled and making them. We have a lot of guys who can make free throws and that showed in this game."

Freshman forward Mike Young, who was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line, added, "It felt really good to make free throws. As a team we have had some lows with free throws and some would say that free throws were the difference between us winning a lot of close games. But every game is a new game and every time we go to the line we think one for one.

"We don't think about making one for two, or 'I have to make this one.' We just go for one and when we got to the line [Saturday] we made them. When you want to win a game big players make big shots."

After tonight, the Panthers will finish their season on the road Saturday at Clemson (18-10, 9-7). Pitt beat the Tigers, 76-43, Jan. 21 at Petersen Events Center.


Scouting report

Matchup: Pitt (22-7, 10-6 ACC) vs. North Carolina State (17-12, 7-9), 9 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.

TV/Radio: ESPNU; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Defeated the Wolfpack, 74-62, Jan. 4 in first game as a member of the ACC. ... Has won two in a row. ... Coming off 85-81 overtime win Saturday at Notre Dame in which it made 24 of 28 free throws. ... Final home game for Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson. ... Has clinched a bye in the ACC tournament.

North Carolina State: Has lost four of five games. ... Coming off 85-70 loss Saturday at home to Miami. ... Needs to win final two games to finish 9-9 in ACC. ... Sophomore T.J. Warren leads team in scoring (23.6 ppg) and has made 52 percent of his shots from the field. ... Averages 70.9 points per game.

Hidden Stat: North Carolina State is 177th in Division I in rebounds per game (34.8).


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

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