Pitt shakes off slow start, beats Terps 83-79

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Great defense has been a staple of Pitt in the Jamie Dixon era, and the Panthers have won a lot of games over the years by locking down opponents and grinding it out on offense.

But this is a different Pitt team this season, one that seemingly has adapted to the changing tides in college basketball. Saturday night against Maryland, the Panthers showed just how different as they won a game even though their defense wasn't particularly good.

That meant the Panthers would have to win a game with their offense. And while they may not have been built to do that in the past, they clearly are now after an 83-79 ACC victory against the Terrapins before a crowd of 17,202 at Comcast Center.

It was the most points the Panthers had given up in a win since Jan. 8, 2011, when they beat Marquette, 89-81. Dixon said that while they don't like giving up a lot of points, they have had to adapt to the way the game is officiated.

"[Maryland] was relentless, they battled, they played hard and I thought we did a good job of staying within ourselves," he said. "But I think this is a different game, they are calling the game differently, there is going to be more scoring so you have to change your [defensive] goals around a little bit, your numbers in terms of what you think you can do.

"We talk about holding teams under 40 percent [from the field], force turnovers. I think this is a team that can win in a variety of ways because we do everything well. We defend well, we rebound well, we shoot it well."

Dixon said the goal in this game was to be aggressive and get to the basket and not settle for jump shots because he felt like they could get the Terrapins into foul trouble if they continued to drive.

That plan turned out to be pretty good as the Panthers carved up the Terrapins defense and got to the free-throw line a Dixon-era high 47 times.

Pitt made 32 of 47 (68 percent), but that number -- 32 points from the free-throw line -- is also the most by a Dixon-coached team. He said getting that many opportunities at the line is a credit to just how good Pitt ran its offense.

"I knew this wasn't going to be a 3-point shooting game [for Pitt]. I didn't want us to get into that," Dixon said. "I wanted us to get into the lane, get fouled and we attacked the basket well and that was what we really wanted to do. We talked about the way the game was going to be, we knew it was going to be physical and we didn't want to settle for jump shots.

"I thought our offense was really good in that regard."

Of course, when this team is playing well on offense, it usually means senior Lamar Patterson is having a big game and that was certainly the case against Maryland.

Patterson led all scorers with 28 points but he also had his usual stat-sheet filling game, adding 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals.

He also exemplified what Dixon talked about in terms of being aggressive as he was fouled seemingly every time he drove and made 12 of 14 free-throw attempts.

He said that while the Panthers weren't happy giving up so many points, it was nice to be able to execute the offense well enough to win anyway.

"Defense definitely wasn't good at all," Patterson said. "We have won some games like this but we have lost some games where our defense really wasn't where it was supposed to be. That is an aspect of the game that we always want to be on top of along with our rebounding.

"If we can hold a team to 30 points in a game, we know we are going to win the game and that's what we aim to do. But [offensively], getting to the hole is what you want to do. I know if I am putting pressure on the defense, they will have to try and stop me and sag off my teammates so it is either going to be a bucket for me or a bucket for [my teammates]."

This is the second win by Pitt (18-2, 6-1) against Maryland (11-9, 3-4) this season. The Panthers beat the Terrapins, 79-59, Jan. 6 at Petersen Events Center.

And while this game was closer than the previous one on the scoreboard, Pitt actually took control of the game with an 11-1 run late in the first half and maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half.

The Panthers were never really in danger of losing but did miss some free throws in the final three minutes. That enabled the Terrapins to close the gap with a late run.

Still, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon came away from the game even more impressed with the Panthers than the first time because he said that his team gave them its best shot, and it wasn't good enough to win.

"We gave up way too many layups and way too many free throws," Turgeon said. "And guys, I have been doing this a long time. I have been a head coach or an assistant for 26 years and I am telling you that is one of the best teams that I have ever coached against.

"How they are ranked 20th at 18-2 is an absolute joke. That is a top-five team in the country, to come into this building and really control the game, they were up 8-10 for the entire second half, that shows you how good they are. They are terrific."

James Robinson scored 13 points, Talib Zanna had 16 points and seven rebounds, and Cameron Wright scored 12 points and chipped in with three assists for the Panthers, who were 25 of 49 from the field (51 percent) and outrebounded Maryland, 37-28.

The Terrapins were led by Dez Wells, who scored 19 points and had four steals, and Jake Layman, who had 18 and had five rebounds.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published January 25, 2014 8:42 PM

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