For a half, Pitt looked beatable. With about five minutes left in the game, that still looked to be the case.
At the 5:04 mark, the Panthers trailed Penn State by a point. Pitt, though, showed some resiliency and came back for a 78-69 win.
Don't be fooled by this - there will undoubtedly be a line a mile long of folks that will claim Pitt isn't that good because of the narrow win. But when you consider they won despite so many things going against them, it really proves they are quite good.
- Pitt shot, by their standards, pretty badly much of the night and were abysmal from three-point range.
- Pitt is 12th in the nation with 18 assists per game coming into tonight, but had less than half of that tonight.
- They clanged layups ... a lot of them.
- They played a horrible first half of basketball.
- Most importantly, they weren't able to do anything defensively against the backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. Everyone will rave about Frazier's 27 points, but don't forget that Newbill had 18 of his own.
Still, despite all of that, Pitt found a way to win.
Speaking of Frazier, don't be too down on the defensive effort on him. Plenty of times, Pitt played good defense against him and he just had one of those nights where everything went in. There was one shot in the second half when he was blanketed around the free throw line and he decided to throw up an off-balance shot anyway. Of course, it went in. Just nothing you can do there - you're bound to run into hot players and I'm less concerned with Pitt's defense against him than others will be.
Penn State isn't a great team, but they're certainly a decent one. And when you factor in all of the above, the Panthers could have easily lost this game if they didn't play well down the stretch. Fortunately for Pitt, they did.
After that 59-58 Penn State lead with about five minutes left, Pitt went on an 11-3 run. That was fueled largely by James Robinson, who had six of those points and a steal. Robinson had some struggles earlier and didn't register an assist in the game, but he really came through down the stretch and that's part of his true value. He made some clutch free throws late last year and is just a great player to have on your side with the game winding down. Kid's just a winner.
Another thing that was great to see? Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson step up in the second half. Both were really non-factors in the first half and rebounded to have pretty good games. Zanna finished with 16 points and ten boards and Patterson had a nearly identical night with 16 and nine. Those guys had 26 of their 32 points in the second half and contributed more than half of the team's points over the last 20 minutes. That's what you need out of upperclassmen and with the game on the line, those guys came up big. We've talked a lot about Pitt needing a go to scorer and I'm still not convinced they have one. But what they did have tonight were two seniors who just put the team on their backs in the second half.
And look, free throws. This is exactly the kind of game Pitt could have lost with weak free throw shooting and the kind they've lost in the past. But the Panthers made 28 out of a whopping 35 attempts and at 80%, it was really one of the reasons they won the game. Cam Wright was seven of eight. Mike Young was 6-6. James Robinson was 4-4. The bench was 6-8. Just really big performances there.
Mock the close test all you want, but I'm telling you - this is a top 25 team. They had an off night, were playing against a superhuman effort by the opposing backcourt and still nearly won by double digits. Pitt is a very good team and while the close outcome may not make you believe in them just yet, they'll prove it over the course of the year.
Get on the bandwagon, folks.