Basketball: Panthers dominate Princeton, advance in CBI

By Greg Trietley

ive Panthers finished with double-digit point totals during Monday night’s win against… ive Panthers finished with double-digit point totals during Monday night’s win against Princeton.

The men’s basketball team defeated the Tigers 82-61 at the Petersen Events Center during the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.

Lamar Patterson led the Panthers with 19 points, and Nasir Robinson added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds to propel Pitt (19-16) into the semifinals of the CBI.

But the improved performances came too little, too late. Starting point guard Travon Woodall said after the game that the team, with nothing on the line, is playing loose at this point in the season.

“We’re just out there playing basketball. Coach [Jamie] Dixon told us just to go out there and just play hard, make the extra pass and have fun,” Woodall said. “You see a lot of guys out there smiling a lot more.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game, “I’m not going to tell you it’s what we want to be doing. We want to be in the NCAA Tournament … but these guys want to play — from everything they’ve done in practice, being there early, and the way they’ve come out in both games.”

Patterson’s 19 points made for a career high.

“The first couple shots went in. I just kept testing it, and it just kept falling,” he said after the game. “My guys tell me to shoot open shots, and that’s what I was doing.”

Princeton’s (20-12) run in the CBI ends after the team allowed 168 points in two postseason games.

Woodall finished two rebounds short of a triple-double for Pitt. He had 15 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.

“I’m not going to lie. Before I subbed out, they told me I was four rebounds away. That’s why you saw me running after the rebounds,” Woodall said after the game, laughing. “But besides that, I was just in the flow of the game.”

Talib Zanna had 11 points with six rebounds, and Ashton Gibbs also scored 10 points for Pitt.

The Panthers are 23-of-45 from 3-point range in the CBI.

Pitt’s offense had little trouble running its sets against the Princeton defense. The Panthers scored 49 first-half points and showed promise even with seniors Gibbs and Robinson on the bench. Thirty-nine of Pitt’s first-half points Monday came from players who will return next fall.

“This is a very good team, and we played well and went out and did the things we wanted to do. It’s hard to be up on Princeton by 24 points in the first half,” Dixon said after the game.

Monday was Pitt’s highest-scoring first half since the team’s 57-point performance against Virginia Military on Dec. 6.

“We’ve been trying to simulate game situations in practice,” Woodall said. “Guys have been going really hard … it’s definitely helping us, carrying over into the game.”

Princeton shot well in spurts in the first half, especially from 3-point range. Junior forward Mack Darrow and senior guard Douglas Davis combined for six first-half 3-pointers.

Davis led Princeton with 20 points, passing Kit Mueller to become Princeton’s No. 2 scorer all-time.

But Pitt finished the first half with just one turnover and a 49-25 lead.

After intermission, Princeton came within 11 points of the Panthers thanks to strong shooting from Davis and junior forward Ian Hummer, but Pitt shot 48.3 percent from the field down the stretch to close out the win.

“It’s hard to come back and win,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said after the game, referring to the hole the Tigers dug themselves into early.

Hummer finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. He said his team “focused on getting the ball inside” on Pitt late in the game but lamented the timing, saying that the Tigers “should have done it in the first half.”

Pitt dominated the boards and the paint Monday night. The Tigers had just five offensive rebounds and no second-chance points, and the Panthers won the rebounding battle, 39-26.

“We didn’t do a good enough job this year getting the ball inside, and it’s been an emphasis this last couple of games,” Dixon said. “Post-ups, penetration … it’s something that we should have done better earlier in the year.”