Pitt, Penn State renew rivalry

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By Nate Barnes | Sports Editor

Pitt and Penn State face each other in basketball for the first time in eight years tonight at the Petersen Events Center as a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The matchup comes as a part of what’s billed as “Rivalry Week” and follows Pitt’s 84-67 victory against Duquesne in the 82nd City Game Saturday.

While the Panthers do not play the Nittany Lions each year, as they do with the Dukes, freshman forward Michael Young looks forward to playing the game.

“Every game has some importance, and we haven’t played them in a while. It’s something new,” Young said. “We play Duquesne every year that we get up for, but playing someone new who’s also close to us will be exciting, also.”

Young played his freshman year of high school basketball at Shadyside Academy, and his hometown is listed as Duquesne, Pa. The proximity of both Duquesne and Penn State present games that Young says the Panthers are “excited” about.

“It’ll be a fun game,” Young said. “I’m a Pittsburgh kid, so to play Penn State and to play Duquesne is something great.”

Additionally, in the Panthers’ young season, Pitt has played just two of its seven games thus far against teams from power conferences (Texas Tech and Stanford in Brooklyn). While Penn State is not one of the major players in the Big Ten, a matchup with another big school adds another layer of intrigue to Tuesday’s game.

“We’re very excited,” Young said. “We haven’t played Penn State in years. So to play them, to play a Big Ten team is a good opportunity for us.”

The proximity of the schools resulted in redshirt senior forward Lamar Patterson, from Lancaster, Pa., being recruited by both Pitt and Penn State. Beyond that, playing another team close to Pitt is something Patterson likes.

“It’s nice to have an in-state battle like that, since we’re not playing Villanova anymore. Playing against Duquesne and playing against Penn State are good little games,” Patterson said.

In recent history, Pitt has won the last five games between the schools by an average of 25.8 points, and Penn State has not beaten the Panthers in Pittsburgh since 1978. Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon is 3-0 against the Nittany Lions, and the last game between the schools in 2005 ended with a 91-54 Pitt victory. The Panthers’ 37-point margin of victory is the largest by either team in series history.

“Obviously it’s a rivalry that we’re all well-aware of,” Dixon said. “We look forward to it.”

The Nittany Lions (6-2) enter the contest coming off a loss to Ole Miss that ended a five-game winning streak that included wins over Bucknell and La Salle. Guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill lead Penn State into action as the team’s top scorers out of the backcourt.

Newbill leads the team at 19.5 points per game on 52 percent shooting, and Frazier averages 18.5 points while shooting a 47.4 percent clip. Dixon cited the experience of the guards — Newbill, a redshirt junior, and Frazier, a fifth-year senior — as the reason for their effectiveness.

“College basketball is about being old,” Dixon said. “Kids when they’re 22, 23, throw a redshirt year in there, what they were when they were 17 is just a complete transformation for obvious reasons.”

Limiting the effectiveness of Penn State’s scorers is a priority for Dixon’s Panthers.

“I think those two guys are the key,” Dixon said.

But alongside the Nittany Lions’ talented guards, Dixon stressed the capabilities of Penn State’s frontcourt players as ones the Panthers cannot ignore.

“The big guys are skilled,” Dixon said. “They can step up out and shoot the ball, they shoot threes at five different spots.”

Junior 6-foot-6-inch forward Ross Travis is Penn State’s stalwart frontcourt asset, and Travis leads the Nittany Lions in rebounding at 8.3 boards per game and averages 11.6 points per game. Penn State, as a team, records just under 36 rebounds per game, while the Panthers average a hair under 40 boards per contest.

“We know they can score,” Patterson said. “Their bigs can shoot the ball, they’re attacking, we know that much about them.”

For the Panthers, Patterson leads the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. Patterson is also among Pitt’s leaders at 5.4 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2 steals per game.

While the Panthers are playing a unique opponent, their strategy for the game is no different than the one that has them on a seven-game winning streak to start the season.

“We’re just going to play our game,” Patterson said. “Get in the paint, attack them, hit open shots, just keep it simple. We’re not going to change anything.”

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