Brad Wanamaker was Pitt's second-best 3-point shooter last season behind only Big East Conference leader Ashton Gibbs. Wanamaker made 39.6 percent of his shots from behind the arc, many of those big shots in big games that helped the Panthers win.
For the first seven games of the season, Wanamaker displayed little confidence from 3-point range. He made only 4 of his first 18 attempts, which prompted him to begin passing up open 3-pointers.
That's not the case any longer. Wanamaker rediscovered his outside shooting touch, and yesterday it helped propel the Panthers to a 71-59 victory against Kent State at Petersen Events Center.
Wanamaker scored a game-high 18 points to lead Pitt (8-2) to its 44th consecutive home victory against a non-conference opponent, which set a school record. Wanamaker was 5 for 7 from the field, including a perfect 3 for 3 on his 3-point attempts.
"I've constantly been working on it," Wanamaker said. "Coach has been telling me to get in the gym and shoot. I've been shooting, and I've started seeing the ball go in the hoop. So now when I have the opportunity I take advantage."
In the past three games, Wanamaker is 7 for 10 from 3-point range to bring his season percentage up to 39.2 percent. Coach Jamie Dixon said he wants Wanamaker to shoot more when he is open.
"We've talked to him about it," Dixon said. "We want him to shoot it more. We want him to take the open shot. The past five games he's been playing well offensively. He's letting things come to him and he's taking open shots. That's always been the challenge with him. He seems to pass up open shots and get himself into trouble. He's coming along just fine. He's playing really well."
Wanamaker had his finest game of the season in a game the team had its best offensive game. The Panthers shot a season-high 53.3 percent from the field. Three other players joined Wanamaker in double figures.
Sophomore power forward Nasir Robinson, who was held scoreless in the previous two games, had 12 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs and freshman guard Travon Woodall each added 10 points.
In the previous two games against Indiana and New Hampshire, Wanamaker and Gibbs accounted for 77 percent of the team's points (85 of 111). Yesterday they accounted for only 39 percent. That was a welcome sight for Dixon, who covets a balanced scoring attack.
"You kind of know Ashton and Brad will come to play every night," Robinson said. "So the other teammates just need to step up and contribute to the team. We have to help those guys."
Pitt never trailed in the game after jumping to a 12-2 lead in the opening minutes. Wanamaker led the way in the first half, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the first 20 minutes. His two biggest shots came toward the end of the first half.
Kent State climbed back into the game and trailed by only three when Wanamaker made his first 3-pointer to make it 28-22 with 6:29 remaining. He made another 3-pointer with 2:44 left before the intermission to give Pitt a 36-27 lead. Those shots were sandwiched around two big shots by Chase Adams and Robinson at the end of the shot clock that prevented the Golden Flashes from getting it to a one-possession game.
"That deflated us, really," Kent State's Chris Singletary said of the final seven minutes of the first half. "We sit down and play good defense for 30 seconds then in the last five seconds we over-helped."
Kent State coach Geno Ford called the two shots at the end of the clock "the two biggest plays of the game."
"Any time a team is hitting shots at the end of the shot clock after playing great defense it will hurt you," Wanamaker said. "I know they felt they were playing great defense. For us to find it open at the end ... it hurts because when teams do it to us I know it hurts us."
For Dixon, the field goals at the end of possessions were nice to see. His previous teams were known for grinding opponents down by making late-possessions shots, but it had not been happening with great regularity through the first nine games.
"We haven't really done that a lot this year," he said. "It seems like we hadn't made those shots. We've missed shots at the end of the clock. That's something we've always done in the past. We had patience and scored at the end of possessions and grinded people out. It was good to see us make some shots."
Pitt increased its lead to 13 early in the second half, but Kent State continued to hang around, thanks in part to the Panthers turning the ball over a season-high 19 times. The Golden Flashes had a late rally to cut the lead to six with 5:01 remaining, but that's when the Panthers receive a boost from an unexpected source.
In only his second game back after offseason foot surgery, Jermaine Dixon scored the next five points -- his first points of the season -- to restore the lead to double figures. Dixon played 14 minutes, but his play at the end was pivotal.
"That was big," Jamie Dixon said.
NOTES -- Pitt does not play again until Saturday when Mount Saint Mary's visits for another non-conference game. ... Kent State senior Mike McKee, who played at Plum High School, was 0 for 5 from the field and did not score. He came into the game averaging 8.9 points per game.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com . First Published December 13, 2009 5:00 AM