Only major program to lose an exhibition game this year? UNLV, last night. Remember being annoyed with UNLV because Khem Birch transferred there? Or how Pitt lost out to UNLV for the services of Savon Goodman — now quitting the team after 1 year suspension following felony burglary charges. Yeah, sometimes it all works out with what you “lose.”
Exhibition recap now. Media run through for football later. Pitt-GT tonight. It’s going to be a busy day, so I’ll keep this kind of short since I have to head out to get my growler filled so I can get through the day.
It wasn’t even close this time. Pitt worked over Slippery Rock. Never gave them even a chance to think there was a chance. Slippery Rock is a decent D-II team. People who know say they are better than University of San Diego. Unfortunately for the Rock, they played Pitt in the second exhibition game. After Pitt got a bit more serious.
Pitt came out strong and did not let up the entire time.
The Panthers led start to finish, held a big halftime lead and came away with a 96-60 victory.
The onslaught started early with freshman forward Michael Young drilling a 3-pointer from the corner in the opening minute. Pitt opened a double-digit lead before six minutes ticked off the clock.
“The focus of the week since last Friday was improvement,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We obviously accomplished that.”
Dixon was impressed in particular with the Panthers’ “patience and understanding” on defense against The Rock, a program that was 23-9 last season.
Pitt kept building a bigger lead. Taking it the difference to over 40 in the final minutes before emptying the bench — even letting all three walk-ons play at the same time in the final minute. To end with only a 36-point win. Durand Johnson and Cam Wright led Pitt in scoring with 21 and 17 points.
Johnson’s outburst was almost entirely in the second half (18 points). One of those hot spell of his that makes every Pitt fan want to see more of him in the line-up. The issue with Johnson has always been streakiness. Games like this followed by not hitting a thing. If he shows more consistency, then he will be a huge sparkplug off the bench this year.
Wright also had 10 rebounds and 2 steals to go with his scoring. And even with the new rules emphasis — leading to so many fouls being called — Wright was only whistled once despite playing tough defense. He never looks as fluid as some players (though, his shooting form looks so much better), but he definitely looked comfortable out there.
On the senior side, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna did everything they were supposed to do.
Patterson probed Slippery Rock’s defense just enough to create a passing lane so he could squeeze a pass inside to senior Talib Zanna for a dunk. Another time, Patterson picked the right moment to feed sophomore James Robinson for a wide-open 3-pointer. Late in the opening half, Patterson drove the court for a twisting layup to cap a 9-0 Pitt run that answered Slippery Rock’s 6-0 burst.
At the start of the second half, Patterson planted himself in the lane and drew a charge that negated a Slippery Rock layup.
Patterson’s veteran leadership rubbed off on Zanna (14 points, eight rebounds).
When Zanna gets going early, it seems to elevate his game. He becomes more aggressive going to the basket and is a more dangerous defensive presence. With the 6-foot-9 Zanna looming in the paint, Slippery Rock made only 25.9 percent of its shots in the opening half and shot 33.9 percent overall.
I don’t buy into comparing Lamar Patterson to Brad Wanamaker any longer (I’m guilty of making those comparisons in prior years). I like Patterson and there are similarities, but he has lacked the decisiveness in his decisionmaking that Wanamaker possessed.
That is my one fear with Patterson if Pitt is indeed trying to up the tempo. He can’t wait and hold the ball on the perimeter trying to survey the scene for the perfect pass or shot. That will be something I watch with him this season.
As for Zanna. I really, really want him to thrive this year. The issues are what happens against teams with size and strength inside. His junior year in Big East play was such a sharp contrast with how he was in a weak non-con. So whatever he does in the non-con this year will be tempered by a wait and see what happens in ACC play.
Finally, Mike Young featured on this Pitt piece after CBS Sports writer Jon Rothstein took in a Pitt practice this past week.