Pitt shows resilience after Durand Johnson's season-ending injury
January 15, 2014 11:27 PM
John Bazemore/Associated Press
Pitt forward Talib Zannam right, stepped up and scored 22 points against Georgia Tech.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA -- Pitt didn't have Durand Johnson for the first time Tuesday night against Georgia Tech and Lamar Patterson didn't have his best game.
Yet, when final horn sounded, the Panthers walked out of McCamish Pavilion with an 81-74 win against the Yellow Jackets, a six-game winning streak and a share of first place in the ACC.
That says a lot about the Panthers' depth, but it showed that the Panthers were serious about their "next-man-up" approach to each game.
Without Johnson, the Panthers' sixth man, point guard James Robinson stepped up and scored 16 points, which is more than twice his season average of 7.6 points per game. Senior Talib Zanna, who averaged 12.4 points per game before Tuesday, scored 22.
"We have depth on this team," Patterson said. "James stepped up, Talib played a great game, Mike Young was a beast rebounding and Cam [Wright] played a great second half.
"We have a lot of good players, and our team is not about one person and [Tuesday night] we definitely showed that. We have to make sure we are ready to go every night, we have that attitude that we don't want anyone to catch us on an off night.
"[Tuesday night] was bad personally for myself, but other guys stepped up and so we did a great job of that."
Zanna indicated that the Panthers (16-1, 4-0) were continuing their season-long trend of picking up for each other.
He said he knew he had to pick up some of the slack and noted that Robinson and Young, a freshman who had 6 points and 7 rebounds and was 4 of 4 from the field, did the same thing.
"Losing Durand is a sad thing for us, he is our shooter, he is energy guy, he is really intense," Zanna said. "But we just know we have a lot players we can rely on, like Mike Young. He came out strong and rebounding and he kept crashing the glass and knocked down some big free throws.
"I am a veteran, I have a lot of experience, I want to lead by example. I knew that Lamar was kind of off and the ball wasn't going the way he wanted and we were missing Durand, so I knew I had to bring my best and bring a lot to the table."
Robinson knew that his team might need him to score a few more points than usual, so he was more aggressive offensively.
But he stressed that all the players know that filling a void doesn't mean the Panthers should get away from what they do best, which is play unselfish offense, play strong team defense and rebound.
He said those principles are the foundation of the team.
"We really just want to grind teams out, all 40 minutes and keep battling, just keep fighting" Robinson said.
"Everybody is just trying to step up, not just one or two, everybody -- we miss Durand and we will miss him for the rest of the season but we know he will still be with us in spirit and he will be that energy guy for us."
Jones was given the first shot at replacing Johnson, but he struggled while playing only four minutes and quickly got into foul trouble.
Jones also got lost a few times on defense and did not return after his brief appearance.
"He'll be back, don't write him off," Dixon said, with a smile. "He got the two fouls, and we got Josh [Newkirk] in there, but [Jones] will be back, he will be in there on Saturday and he will play good for us."
The Panthers' depth will face a much bigger test Saturday when they visit No. 2-ranked Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) at Carrier Dome, where Pitt has enjoyed much success with five wins in their past six trips there.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise.
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