Zanna, Johnson jump-start Panthers to 4-0 start


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Pitt got off to another quick start Wednesday night against Lehigh and had another great game shooting, quickly turning a somewhat competitive game into a blowout.

Senior Talib Zanna scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Panthers to a 77-58 victory against the Mountain Hawks before a crowd of 9,544 at Petersen Events Center in their second game of the Legend's Classic.

Pitt got a huge performance from Zanna, but sophomore reserve guard Durand Johnson also had a big game off the bench, hitting 5 of 8 3-point attempts to finish with a career-high 15 points. Sophomore point guard James Robinson scored only two points but added 11 assists and didn't commit a turnover.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, for the second game in a row, said the Panthers' hot shooting -- they were 7 of 14 from the 3-point line in the first half -- was a product of offensive execution and getting easy shots.

"I thought we had a lot of unselfish play and unselfish guys making an extra pass," Dixon said. "As a program we are known for that, we are always up there among the best teams in the country in assists and we will continue to do so. Our track record speaks to [having unselfish players] and I thought tonight was a great testament for that.

"You look at James, he had 11 assists and the game was blown open but he was still out there looking to pass first and not just looking to get his [points]. That is pretty consistent with what we want to be as a program."

Pitt played a very good first half and led, 47-23, at halftime but slipped some in the second half. Pitt actually got outscored in that half, 35-30.

Dixon said that was his fault because he pulled some of the more aggressive defense off a little earlier than usual, and by the time he tried to put it back on to stop the leaking, Lehigh had made a little bit of a run.

"We want to play every minute good but that is not possible so we keep striving for it," Dixon said. "I think some guys did some good things in the second half, others played better in the first but we need to kind of get that second group of players a little better."

Dixon pointed out that the second group -- consisting of Josh Newkirk, Jamel Artis, Derrick Randall, Chris Jones -- is comprised of three freshmen and a transfer, so there will be some growing pains and a learning curve.

Johnson said that his hot game started the previous game when he was 0-for-4 from the 3-point line. It made him hungry to work on his game and make sure he never had a shooting game like that again.

"After the last game, I was down on myself," he said. "I felt bad, I was 0 for 4 and I'm a shooter, so I got in the gym and got a lot of shots off and I realized I wasn't jumping as much as I need to when I was shooting them so I worked on it and came out ready."

Robinson said that Johnson's offense off the bench is a nice perk for the Panthers, but he is a much more complete player than people give him credit for.

"It is great to know when he comes in he will bring energy and enthusiasm," Robinson said of Johnson. "And when he is scoring like that, it just adds to it. He is much more complete player than a scorer, he brings energy and athletic he is a lot better passer now."

Dixon agreed with Robinson that Johnson has become much more than a scorer and said that his proficiency shooting the ball against Lehigh (1-4) was a product of good offense.

"Obviously in all those cases [of Johnson hitting a shot], it was a guy making an extra pass," Dixon said. "Our execution was really good and it starts with a ball screen and penetration. He is doing other things, too. He had five rebounds made a couple of nice passes and his defense was better.

"He is a sophomore that has gotten better and that is also what we have seen in our program."

Pitt (4-0) outrebounded Lehigh, 44-21, and also held the Mountain Hawks to 14 percent shooting from the 3-point line (1 of7) in the first half.

Lehigh did get a big performance from freshman center Tim Kempton, whose father played at Notre Dame and in the NBA for 12 seasons. He had 20 points and grabbed three rebounds.

Pitt will play Texas Tech Monday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the semifinals of the Legend's Classic. Stanford and Houston meet in the second game.

The losers and winners square off the following night.

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


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