Pitt coach Jamie Dixon prepared his team to stop North Carolina State star forward T.J. Warren, who leads the ACC in scoring and scored 23 against the Panthers the first time the two teams played this season.
That message, however, apparently got lost, was missed or perhaps ignored by the Panthers Monday night because Warren seemed to encounter little or no resistance on his way to a record-setting performance.
Warren scored 41 points and grabbed 5 rebounds to lead the Wolfpack to an improbable, 74-67 win that stunned a sellout crowd of 12,508 at Petersen Events Center.
“The guy is good, he is very good,” Dixon said of Warren. “We couldn’t have talked about him more, him being their guy and early on it didn’t seem like we knew he was a 24-point-per-game guy. I was surprised and couldn’t understand it.”
The 41 points by Warren, who was averaging 23.7 points per game, were the most by any player at Petersen Events Center and broke the record of 37 set Jan. 4, 2006 by Notre Dame’s Chris Quinn.
The big difference was the Panthers beat the Fighting Irish that game, 100-97, in double overtime, but couldn’t overcome Warren Monday night.
“This was a great team win for us but, obviously, T.J. was spectacular and made big shots for us,” North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. “He kept making big shots late in the game, and we finished the game out which is something we haven’t done. I thought also we gave up only two offensive rebounds, which is unheard of against Jamie teams and we didn’t turn it over, and those were two keys.
“T.J. Warren gets 41 but it is an unselfish 41. He was 16 of 22 from the field and he didn’t take bad shots, our guys kept going to him because he had the hot hand. But, yeah, he was special, especially against a team that prides themselves on defending the way Pitt does.”
Pitt players as well as Dixon clearly were searching for answers after the Panthers lost for the sixth time in nine games. They are limping toto the finish of the regular season instead of hitting their stride.
Lamar Patterson said Warren obviously was a big part of the problem, but he contended the Panthers also hurt themselves by not rebounding in their usual dominant manner.
“He got a lot of layups most of the time, [and] when you have that many layups it is easy to put the ball in the hoop,” said Patterson, one of the players charged with guarding Warren. “Everything he shot was going in. We played pretty much our principles, he just shot over us and got easy looks. He is a great player, he knows his strengths and he can finish around the rim.
“He knows how to score, he proved that [Monday night]. And they outrebounded us by 12, it is rare that we win games when we get beat like that in rebounds.”
Not to be outdone, the Panthers also set a record, grabbing only two offensive rebounds — “I didn’t think that was possible to grab only two offensive rebounds,” Dixon said — and were outrebounded, 36-23.
Offensive rebounds have been kept as an official NCAA statistic only since 1986-87 and this was the fewest the Panthers have managed in that span.
Their previous low was three in a 117-102 win Feb. 11, 1990 against Providence.
The 23 rebounds also tied the single-game low for a Dixon-coached team. The Panthers also grabbed 23 in a 74-69 win Jan. 13, 2006against Georgetown.
“We have been stressing all along rebounding, and I don’t know if the guys or other people recognize how important it is for us,” Dixon said. “[Monday night] we set records with our rebound numbers. Again, I don’t know how we can get two offensive rebounds and only 23, so I take full responsibility for that.
“We have to outrebound people, … and we didn’t do that [Monday night], and so we get this result. It is hard to take.”
It was the fifth time the Panthers (22-8, 10-7) lost at home this season, and it marked their fifth loss in the past six home games. Now, they must win their final game Saturday at Clemson (18-7, 9-7) to lock up fifth place and the fifth seed in the ACC tournament next week.
North Carolina State (18-12, 8-9) had been struggling with four losses in its past five games and the victory pumped some life back into the Wolfpack’s fleeting NCAA tournament hopes.
Pitt led, 36-31, at the half. James Robinson opened the second half scoring with a jumper, but a 3-point play by Warren with 19:29 to play pulled the Wolfpack to within 38-34 and jump-started a 12-6 run.
Warren finished the run with a layup that tied the score at 44-44 with 15:06 left, but freshman Josh Newkirk, who finished with 20 points, made a jumper on the next possession that gave the Panthers a 46-44 lead. But Freeman got a dunk and Warren made a jumper and, with 13:06 left, North Carolina State had its first lead, 48-46.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and
First Published March 3, 2014 11:40 PM