Penn State took a one-point lead with just more than five minutes remaining Tuesday night in a game against the Pitt men’s basketball team at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt, a team favored to beat the Nittany Lions by double-digits, was minutes away from an upset loss.
Pitt’s next basket was a 3-pointer by redshirt senior forward Lamar Patterson, who emerged from a trio of screens on the opposite side of the floor from when Talib Zanna held the ball in the post. Zanna passed to Patterson, who then canned the triple and whipped the Oakland Zoo into a frenzy.
About two minutes later, after Penn State’s D.J. Newbill made a 3-pointer out of a timeout to draw within a point, Patterson found sophomore point guard James Robinson for a layup. With a minute remaining, Patterson then found himself with the ball after Pitt broke Penn State’s full-court press, isolated against Ross Travis.
“It just happened,” Patterson said of the sequence. “I saw he was big, I knew I could take a big off the dribble, so I just went upon myself there.”
Patterson attacked Travis off the dribble, laid the ball in and drew a foul, off which he made his and-one attempt. Pitt led by eight points after Patterson’s bucket and free throw, its largest lead of the game until that point.
Behind Zanna and Patterson, Pitt controlled the final minutes of Tuesday’s game, which led to a 78-69 Pitt victory against Penn State as a part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Pitt’s two seniors helped the Panthers overcome a sloppy first half in which they shot just 7-of-25 from the field and trailed 30-28 at halftime, guiding Pitt to victory.
“We didn’t say it verbally, but we just knew,” Patterson said of finishing the game strongly. “Being the older guys, we know we have to — I don’t want to say turn the switch on because it should’ve been on the whole game — just take it to another level. We had younger guys leaning on our backs.”
Patterson played another solid all-around game, scoring 16 points while handing out five assists and pulling in six rebounds. According to head coach Jamie Dixon, Patterson improved in the second half in the way he handled the pressure Penn State put on the Panthers in screen-rolls.
“They trapped, ‘blitzed’ as we call it, ball screens on Lamar, and he didn’t handle it well early,” Dixon said. “He tried to make a play when all he had to do was make the next pass and got better in the second half.”
Zanna posted his second double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“They brought more energy than we had to begin,” point guard James Robinson said. “I think we came out flat.”
Zanna in particular impressed Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, who said the big man from Nigeria “looks terrific” and has “gotten a lot better” since Chambers recruited Zanna years ago when Chambers was an assistant at Villanova.
“Talib was great,” Chambers said. “He did what he was supposed to do, and Lamar hit a huge three that helped them out and gave them some energy.”
Dixon said his two seniors were “just better” in the second half, which helped Pitt outscore the Nittany Lions by 11 points in the game’s second 20 minutes.
“I thought Talib was really good the whole game as far as just being patient, letting the ball come to him,” Dixon said. “We thought they’d dig down in the post a little bit more and help, but they really left him on an island down there, and that’s why Talib was 7-for-11 and got to the foul line.”
“They went small, so we had to adjust some stuff,” Zanna said. “The paint was wide open, so i just had to go iso and take my man one-on-one.”
Zanna made an impact on the defensive side of the ball as well. Zanna came up to hedge on a screen intended for Tim Frazier, but instead, picked Frazier’s pocket and took the ball himself for a layup.
Zanna also saved two points by blocking a layup attempt by Newbill when the Panthers led by one point with 2:55 to play.
“That’s what you expect from one of your senior leaders,” Patterson said. “That’s Pitt basketball right there. We do it on both ends of the floor.”
And for the younger guys, Patterson and Zanna set an example for them to follow by embodying what they’ve learned in their last four-plus years playing Pitt basketball.
“I think Talib with his energy on both ends of the court, and Lamar with his playmaking and his energy, the younger guys on the team, we just kind of rallied around him,” Robinson said.