Pitt men regain shooting touch

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Pitt shot 50 percent from the field Wednesday night in its 66-59 win against Boston College.

The Panthers made 23 of 46 shots to mark the first time since they beat Maryland, 83-79, Jan. 25 that they shot at least 50 percent from the field. And that shooting slump likely played a significant role in Pitt’s midseason slide.

The Panthers (21-7, 9-6 ACC) were 6-1 through their first seven conference games, but 2-5 in the next seven before they broke through against the Eagles.

Consider these numbers:

The Panthers made 50.4 percent of their field goals in their first seven ACC games while scoring at least 74 points six times, shooting at least 48 percent six times, at least 50 percent five times and averaging 75.3 points per game.

That stretch ended against Maryland, a game that also marked the last time Pitt has scored more than 71 points.

In their next seven games before visiting Boston College, the Panthers shot 37 percent from the field, failed to score 71 or more points, never shot at least 42 percent once and averaged 60.6 points per game.

Coach Jamie Dixon explained that some of that drop can be traced to the quality of opponent. He also noted the Panthers have not run their offense well of late, either.

“We shot 50 percent from the field and, obviously, with our offensive struggles of late, it was good to knock down shots from the field and from the line as well,” Dixon said of Wednesday’s win.

“I thought it was shot selection. I know people look at different things and talk about them, but, usually, if you are not shooting well it is shot selection. It is something that comes and goes as you see some teams have good shooting nights and then bad shooting nights back to back.”

Some of Pitt’s struggles offensively can be linked to seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, who became marked men for defenses after hot starts about the same time as they were injured.

That combination of circumstances undermined much of Pitt’s offensive efficiency.

Through the first seven ACC games, Patterson made 47 of 94 shots and 30 of 37 free throws to average 19.9 points per game. In the next seven, he made 32 of 103 attempts, 25 of 36 free throws and averaged 15.1 points per game.

Zanna experienced a similar drop. After shooting 67 percent from the field and averaging 16.6 points per game in the first seven ACC games, he averaged 8.3 points while shooting 33 percent in the next seven.

The loss to Duke was pivotal as the Blue Devils employed a defensive strategy against Patterson that limited his touches and provided a blueprint for other teams to follow. His thumb injury did not help, either, because it made shooting difficult.

Like Patterson, Zanna, who has played through an ankle injury, had a strong game against Boston College. He made 7 of 10 shots from the field, 7 of 8 free throws and scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Meanwhile, Patterson made 5 of 12 field-goal attempts, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and scored 16 points.

Dixon is hoping that it marked another turning point for his two star seniors.

“The guys are confident in Lamar, they believe in him,” Dixon said.

“The thing [Wednesday] is he let things come to him, he took good shots, he let the open looks come to him. He also had five assists and did a good job of setting other guys up, but the biggest thing is he let his shots come to him.

“And we are obviously going through a stretch where we haven’t scored as well. Everybody can look at the numbers and see [Zanna] is going through a stretch where he hasn’t been as productive as he was to start the season, and there are all the different reasons why but he came back and played well.”

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

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