Lamar Patterson has been Pitt's go-to player and leading offensive player. At times when he is having an off night, the Panthers have a tough time scoring.
And that was never more evident than Saturday when Patterson tried to play against Virginia Tech despite an injured thumb that made it difficult for him to handle the basketball.
As a result, Patterson had his worst offensive game this season and the Panthers had one of their worst offensive outings, but that was still enough to beat the hapless Hokies, 62-57, in double overtime for an ACC victory before a crowd of 12,508 at Petersen Events Center.
Patterson scored a season-low five points and was 1 of 9 from the field, which included several airballs.
"The pain is on the inside of my thumb so they say it is not that serious and it is going to heal," said Patterson, who wasn't able to practice leading up to the game because of his thumb. "It is not that serious, it is not something that is going to need surgery or anything like that, so I am not too concerned.
"[I had to play], I am more of an all-around player so my scoring is not necessary. I can create, I can pass, I can rebound, I can get stops, get defensive steals and definitely tried to do all those things."
Patterson did indeed help the Panthers, recording 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said his on-ball defense doesn't show up in the box score but was vital to the victory.
With Patterson struggling because of his hand, the Panthers had to look elsewhere for offense and that was delivered by Cameron Wright and James Robinson. They combined to score 34 points and both made key plays down the stretch and in overtime.
Robinson made the biggest play, at least in regulation, when he hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw to complete a four-point play and tie the score at 48-48 with 33 seconds to play.
That play enabled Pitt to get to overtime and Robinson said that Wright deserves a lot of credit for it.
"Cam did a good job of driving the ball and attacking and he found me in the corner and I was able to make a play for my team," Robinson said. "That could have been any of us, Lamar could have hit the shot, Josh [Newkirk] could have hit the shot, it just so happened I was the one taking the shot and so I stepped up and hit it for my team.
"I concentrated on making the shot, more so than drawing the foul but we got the call and the rest of it went our way."
The first overtime was not very eventful as both teams struggled to score. With the score tied, 52-52, Virginia Tech freshman Devin Wilson of Montour High School drove the lane with three seconds to play but missed a running jumper for a chance to win the game.
Pitt finally took control in the second overtime with a four-point run -- all free throws by Wright -- to take a 58-54 with 2:59 to play.
The Hokies had one last opportunity to tie the score -- trailing, 58-55 -- but Jarell Eddie missed back-to-back 3-point attempts.
The Panthers were 8 of 10 from the free-throw line in the final 3:35 of the second overtime and that was the difference in the end.
"It was good to see us making free throws down the stretch," Dixon said. "I was proud of Josh [who hit two free throws to finish off the Hokies with 12 seconds to play in the second overtime], a freshman coming out and playing that well and making free throws down the stretch. I am happy with our guys and they battled throughout.
"I have a lot of confidence in Lamar. He made some big plays down the stretch for us. Virginia Tech played very hard but so did we. We started off good offensively but then we missed some shots and it affected us."
This is the 13th year in a row the Panthers (20-4, 8-3) have 20 wins or more and it sets up another showdown against No. 1 Syracuse (22-0, 9-0) Wednesday night at Petersen Events Center.
The Orange beat the Panthers, 59-54, in January at Carrier Dome.
Pitt won despite being outrebounded, 43-28, and despite being outscored, 19-5, in second-chance points. But they got 21 points off of 20 Virginia Tech turnovers.
Eddie led the Hokies (8-15, 1-10), who have lost 10 in a row, with 15 points and five rebounds and Wilson had 10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
Patterson wasn't the only Pitt player who had to fight through a rough game. Senior center Talib Zanna still was hobbled by a bad ankle for the second game in a row.
Zanna finished with seven points and seven rebounds and didn't play one of his better games, but Dixon said the bottom line is that the Panthers found a way to win.
"We're not going to sit here and make excuses," Dixon said. "Everybody is hurt and banged up at this time and it is what it is. We will get healthy and we will get ready."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published February 8, 2014 4:36 PM