Pitt sizzling in opening win

Wright plays with heavy heart after death of his father

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It wasn't difficult to pick out the superlatives in the box score from Pitt's season-opening victory Friday night against Mount St. Mary's. The Panthers set a school record for shooting percentage in the contest, received a career-high 20 points from Talib Zanna and played their typical efficient brand of basketball in an 80-48 blowout victory at Petersen Events Center.

But the box score couldn't explain the emotion that went into the game for the Panthers, especially for sophomore Cameron Wright, whose father passed away earlier in the day from brain cancer.

Kevin Wright was 48 and had been diagnosed a year and a half ago, shortly after he moved from Cleveland to Pittsburgh so he could watch his son play college basketball. Wright missed the team shootaround Friday morning to be with his family, but he returned in time to suit up for the game. He said he wanted to play to honor his father.

"Someone before the game asked me why I wanted to play," Wright said. "These guys are my brothers. This is my second family. My dad moved here to watch me play. He wouldn't have wanted anything different."

Wright scrawled FMF onto his shoes before the game.

For My Father.

Then he went out and played one of the best games of his career. Wright scored 8 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and had 2 steals in 17 minutes off the bench.

"It's been an unbelievably tough time for his family," coach Jamie Dixon said. "When I talked to him he said he wanted to play. His mom said he wanted to play. His dad would have wanted him to play. It was tough. Our players rallied around him.

"He's been playing good. I thought he played really well. He got open and did some good things defensively. He's going to be a real good player for us. He wanted to do that for his dad. I told him afterward that his dad is very proud of him."

Wright and his teammates made history by shooting 70.8 percent. The Panthers were 34 for 48 from the field and beat the previous record of 69.8 percent that was set against George Washington in 1980.

Zanna was 10 for 12 from the field and notched his 20 points in 20 minutes. Tray Woodall was 5 for 9 and added 14 points, and junior guard Trey Zeigler was 5 for 6 for 11 points off the bench.

"We didn't want to settle for 3s," Woodall said. "We wanted to make sure we got to the basket. We got big guys who can finish and we have guards who can attack. We knew we could get layups. Once we got them early we were confident we could get them at the end."

The Panthers only attempted six 3-pointers in the game. They clobbered the Mountaineers inside, outscoring their opponents from the Northeast Conference, 58-14, in the lane. They also pressured them into 16 turnovers, scored 24 points off those miscues and blew them out in transition with a 20-0 margin in fastbreak points.

"Offensively, you look at the numbers and you can't do too much better than that," Dixon said. "We only had eight turnovers and we rebounded half of our misses. That's pretty efficient."

Dixon started two freshmen for the first time in his 10-year tenure. Freshman center Steven Adams had 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in 26 minutes. Point guard James Robinson had 6 points, 4 rebounds and 1 turnover in 29 minutes. Only Woodall was on the court longer.

Mount St. Mary's stayed in the game early by making six of its first eight 3-pointers, but the Mountaineers didn't have much else in their arsenal. Once the outside shots stopped falling they weren't much of a match for the Panthers, who held a 42-27 halftime lead and opened up a 25-point lead five minutes into the second half.

NOTES -- John Johnson and Durand Johnson did not play because of sickness, Dixon said. He hopes they will be able to practice today. ... Xavier Owens led Mount St. Mary's with 15 points. ... Pitt shot 75 percent in the first half, which tied for the fourth-highest field-goal percentage in a half in school history. ... Pitt's bench outscored the Mountaineers bench, 32-3.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published November 10, 2012 5:00 AM


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