Pitt easily dispatches Wake Forest in first ACC Tournament game, 84-55

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Basketball coaches often compare games to boxing in terms of the way both teams must withstand blows and continue to get back up to fight after the other team makes a run.

If that is the case, the game Thursday between Pitt and Wake Forest looked a lot like some early Mike Tyson fights when he routinely made a mockery of his heavyweight opponents and scored first-round knockouts without breaking a sweat.

In this one, Pitt played the role of Tyson; Wake Forest was the unfortunate nameless and faceless tomato can.

"Give Pitt a lot credit, they hit us right between the eyes and we were on our heels throughout the entire game," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said of the 84-55 bludgeoning his Demon Deacons absorbed before a crowd of 21,533 at Greensboro Coliseum in a second-round ACC tournament game.

The victory means the fifth-seeded Panthers (24-8) will play fourth-seeded North Carolina (23-8) at 2 p.m today in a quarterfinal.

The Tar Heels beat the Panthers, 75-71, Feb. 15 in Chapel Hill, N.C., but that game went to the wire before Lamar Patterson missed a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left that would have tied it.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he expects the game today to be similar.

"I remember we lost," he said of the first meeting. "That's what I remember. But I think we are a better team now than we were as we had some guys struggling at that point. I think we are a better team, but we need to show it. Easy to say; we've got to go do something about it."

Senior Lamar Patterson, who led Pitt's charge Thursday with 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists added: "We weren't as effective as we should have been [against the Tar Heels]. We had a lot of early foul trouble, and that slowed us down a bit. But this game is going to be a nice rematch to get back out there and play against them again. It should be exciting."

The game against the Demon Deacons was never in doubt as the Panthers took control immediately and never let up.

Pitt won the opening tip, scored the first basket, and before many fans could get to their seats, it led, 9-2, forcing Bzdelik to use his first timeout.

That did nothing to change the momentum, and when Patterson made a layup with 14:38 remaining, Pitt owned its first double-digit lead at 15-5.

The Panthers stretched that lead to 39-25 by halftime, then used a 17-1 run early in the second half to wipe out what little mystery was left. Josh Newkirk's 3-pointer with 12:40 to play pushed the lead to 60-31.

The 29-point win tied a Panthers record for the largest margin of victory in a conference tournament game and is only the second time in 35 years they won a conference tournament game by more than 20 points. Pitt beat Rhode Island by 29 points, 74-45, in an Eastern 8 tournament game March 6, 1981.

Patterson said it was nice to jump on a team early and be able to run away as opposed to grinding out a win as the Panthers have done so often this season.

"We were able to get some guys who haven't played much in there, and it gave some of the guys who usually do play a rest. It was good," Patterson said.

"We'll just take this and take the momentum and get ready for [North Carolina]."

Dixon said a big difference between now and when the Panthers went through a 4-6 late-season slump is that Patterson and Talib Zanna, who had 17 points and nine rebounds against Wake Forest, are healthy.

Patterson had a thumb injury that made it tough for him to grip the ball and shoot, and Zanna had a bad ankle and struggled to run and jump. Both played at a high level Thursday.

Zanna was often dominant in the first half, when he scored 15 of his 17 points and had three assists and three steals.

Pitt freshman Michael Young, who finished with nine points and three rebounds, said that when Zanna dominates, the Panthers become a different team. "He takes us from being a good team to us being a great team.

"And Lamar, also. When those two are making shots, being aggressive, with a lot of confidence and Talib is getting rebounds -- it makes it so much easier for everybody else."

Pitt outrebounded the Demon Deacons, 38-30, but the margin reached 12 at one point, and the Panthers got 19 points off 14 offensive rebounds and scored 40 points inside.

Such statistics disappointed Bzdelik. The Demon Deacons were focused on winning the rebounding battle and hoped to match the Panthers physical toughness.

"We were always on our heels," said Bzdelik, who, according to reports, is likely to be fired. "All we did was discuss rebounding, and that was the No. 1 key. And I think they had, what, three offensive rebounds in the first three or four minutes after we get stops."

Pitt also did an excellent job against Wake Forest standout Devin Thomas, who scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds.

Thomas had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Demon Deacons' first-round win against Notre Dame, but he wasn't much of a factor against Pitt.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise First Published March 13, 2014 4:52 PM

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