Men’s Basketball: Unselfish play assists in blowout victory for Panthers


By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

It’s rare for a shot to have any significance when your team has a dominant lead with more than 15 minutes of play remaining.  

But when James Robinson drove to the basket, spun into the paint, stopped, pivoted and tossed in a fadeaway jump shot from about 10 feet away with 15:01 to play Tuesday night, he made a difference for the Panthers.  The shot did not make a differnce as Pitt’s 17th-made field goal of the day, or by giving the Panthers a 24-point lead in what would end as a 33-point, 76-43 victory for No. 20 Pitt against Clemson.

Instead, Robinson’s basket was the first field goal made by a Pitt player during the game that didn’t follow an assist from another player. This may seem ironic, given Robinson’s reputation as, arguably, Pitt’s most unselfish player and status as the nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. For Robinson, his selflessness blends with his teammates’ on the court.

“We’re just unselfish by nature,” he said. “We’re not really keeping track of it on the court. It’s kind of something that just comes to us.”

After recording assists on all 16 of its baskets, Pitt (17-2, 5-1 ACC) finished with 24 assists on 27 made field goals. The assist total marks a single-game high for the Panthers, their best single-game assist-to-basket ratio and, perhaps, their most unselfish game of the season. 

Head coach Jamie Dixon recognized the difficulty of playing unselfishly for 40 minutes while holding a sizable lead.

“But I thought that was an unbelievable statement by our players,” Dixon said. “They just continued to find the open man and enjoy doing it.”

Robinson finished with a game-high eight assists next to a clean slate of zero turnovers, and Lamar Patterson handed out six. By contrast, the Tigers finished with only nine assists against 14 turnovers.

Four Panthers scored in double figures as a result of the collective wealth’s distribution, led by 22 points from Talib Zanna. Patterson scored 13, Cameron Wright added 13, and Josh Newkirk chipped in 10 off the bench. 

Because of Pitt’s  selfless play, the Panthers shot 56.3 percent from the field against a Clemson team that entered the Petersen Events Center ranked among the nation’s best defenses. 

“[Pitt is] a terrific passing team,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “They make plays kind of out of nowhere every once in a while.”

Clemson (13-5, 4-2 ACC) came to Pittsburgh allowing its opponents to score only 53.6 points per game on a mere 36-percent rate from the field and ranked second and first in each category respectively. 

But with more than 11 minutes left in the second half, Pitt had already scored 54 points and finished with the highest single-game point total of any of Clemson’s 18 opponents thus far. 

For Dixon, the Panthers needed to create balance on the court.

“We needed to be patient, but you also need to get transition baskets,” Dixon said. “We’re a team that runs and scores a lot of points, but obviously you have to be able to wear them down.”

Dixon said his team returned home with “something to prove” following its five-point loss at No. 2 Syracuse. 

The Panthers delivered, and players such as redshirt senior Zanna benefitted from the team’s performance. Pitt’s center made his first eight shots of the game and finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting. 

The majority of Zanna’s baskets came off feeds from Robinson and Patterson, which set him up for plenty of clean looks at dunks and layups. 

“James [Robinson] and Lamar [Patterson] did a good job finding me,” Zanna said. “I was just rolling and getting baskets.”

As a first-year member of the ACC, Pitt has held a reputation of being physical, but following Tuesday night’s game, this won’t be the only one preceding the Panthers against their new opponents. Like Brownell learned, the Panthers’ ability to share the ball around the court appears heavily on their game footage. Pitt will be known as a generous team.

“They have elite passers,” Brownell said. “Robinson and Patterson are elite passers. You just don’t see many guys that pass the ball as well and play the game with such great poise.”

As a result of their generous and balanced approach, the Panthers surprised one of their own as they dominated a team they were previously tied with for second place in the conference.

“In no way did I anticipate getting that margin of victory against a very good team that’s been playing good basketball,” Dixon said.