ATLANTA — The ball comes off the rim on a missed shot in a typical basketball game and five or six large bodies and long arms jump up to grab it.
And when Pitt is playing, the player who comes down with the ball to secure the rebound usually is wearing a Panthers uniform because rebounding is one of the fundamental elements of coach Jamie Dixon’s program.
That was on display Tuesday night when the Panthers throttled Georgia Tech on the boards and rode that edge to an 81-74 win against the Yellow Jackets before a crowd of 7,131 at McCamish Pavilion to improve to 16-1 (4-0 in the ACC).
Pitt, which played its first game without Durand Johnson, didn’t get a big night from senior standout Lamar Patterson but the Panthers did what they do best – they rebounded. In fact, they outrebounded the Yellow Jackets, 38-18, and that led to a 46-34 edge in points in the paint and a 21-11 edge in second-chance points.
“I’m excited about the win, I am excited by how we did it,” Dixon said. “The rebounding, you obviously have to win that on the road and to do it by that kind of margin was very good. We also hit some free throws down the stretch. The rebounding really stood out to me. Our rebounding numbers have been good, but we always believe we can get better and we did a good job.
“And our passing was terrific, that is what we do, we are good shooting team, but when you get layups, that is why you shoot 57 percent from the field.”
Pitt senior Talib Zanna, who had 22 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, said that the Panthers emphasized rebounding even more coming into this game because the Yellow Jackets have been a pretty good rebounding team.
He said that the Panthers path to victory usually starts with rebounding because even if they don’t shoot well they can keep themselves in the game by holding the other team to only one shot per possession and keeping offensive possessions alive.
“[Jamie] Dixon always talks to us about rebounding the basketball and being tougher than who we are playing on rebounding,” Zanna said. “We came out and we didn’t play as well as we have in the first half but we kept fighting and getting rebounds and that helped us stay in the game until we got the offense going.”
It was Pitt’s sixth consecutive win and fourth ACC win in a row. The victory also sets up a showdown Saturday against ACC rival and No. 2-ranked Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange is one of only three undefeated teams in the country as No. 3 Wisconsin fell to Indiana Tuesday, 75-72, but the Panthers have won four of their past five games at the Carrier Dome and is 9-3 in its past 12 games against Syracuse overall.
Georgia Tech (10-7, 1-3), which played without four players, obviously struggled to match up with the Panthers because the Yellow Jackets lack depth now, but they kept in the game thanks to some late heroics by Trae Golden, who finished with 22 points.
Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said the game was a story of two teams —one that plays with toughness and grit, one and that is still trying to find itself.
And he said that it isn’t a coincidence that Pitt is so good at rebounding the basketball because the Panthers know who they are, how they want to play and how to get into rebounding position.
“That is a really good, excellent program,” Gregory said. “Pittsburgh has built a great program, they play with great toughness, they share the ball well and they rarely take a bad shot and the guys know who is getting the shots and where they are getting them from, so they are always in really good position to rebound.
“Obviously we didn’t rebound tonight worth anything, give them credit. The second-chance points were [Pitt won the category by] 10, and we lose the game by 7.
“We have to play a lot tougher, there is a certain level of toughness and then there is Pittsburgh, which is different.”
Point guard James Robinson also had a big night, scoring 16 points and dishing 5 assists.
The Panthers survived despite an uncharacteristic off night by senior standout Lamar Patterson, who had 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting and also turned the ball over seven times. He did, however, manage a career-high seven assists.
Georgia Tech led, 35-32, at the half and the game remained close for the first five minutes of the second half. It was 41-40 in favor of Pitt after the Yellow Jackets' Quinton Stephens made a 3-pointer with 15:08 to play.
But the Panthers tightened up their defense and started getting to the rim. That’s when they made their first significant run, and it was one from which the Yellow Jackets never recovered.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise First Published January 14, 2014 11:33 PM