It was obvious from the opening tip that the Kent State Golden Flashes were still hungry after their Thanksgiving feast. They had one less offensive rebound (11) than the Pittsburgh Panthers (12) did in the first half. Despite their advantage on the glass, senior point guard James Robinson along with the junior forward tandem of Jamel Artis and Michael Young carried Pitt to another victory at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
Kent State kept pace with the Panthers for a bulk of the first half. Their tenacity on the glass, coupled with a general disinterest by Pitt, saw them down just three points, 29-32, going into the under-4 media timeout. Head coach Jamie Dixon tried changing defenses in the first half, but with mixed results: "Man, they hurt us on the offensive glass, zone, they hurt us on the penetration."
However, the Panthers closed the half on a 10-3 run powered by back-to-back three-pointers by Artis and a triple by graduate transfer guard Sterling Smith. The late surge helped Pitt take a double-digit lead into halftime, 42-32.
The Panthers were able to extend their lead in the second half to 17 points thanks to some easy points from the charity stripe, as well as a few timely layups. The Golden Flashes never went away, however. A three-point play the old-fashioned way cut the deficit under double-digits at the 8:16 mark, and some timely baskets helped keep them within a few possessions of Pitt.
But, it always seemed as though the Panthers had an answer. Whether it was Robinson or Smith drilling three-pointers or a nice turnaround floater by Young, it just seemed like Pitt was always in control. Kent State gave them one more late scare when junior forward Jimmy Hall connected on a jump-hook that saw the score, 83-76 in favor of the Panthers with just 1:15 left.
However, Robinson forced senior guard Xavier Pollard into an offensive foul, and then splashed two free throws to seal the game. Pitt was forced to play the full 40 minutes, but came away with the 85-76 victory.
Pollard led his team with 23 points on 9-13 from the floor. Hall dropped 21 points while adding a team-high four assists.
The Panthers were led by 23 points by Young on 10-15 from the field. Artis recorded 19 points on a very efficient 8-10 from the floor including a perfect 3-3 on three-pointers. Robinson netted his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 assists.
As a team, Pitt was more than willing to share the ball; they recorded 26 assists on 31 made field goals. Young said after the game, "I can be in the game with four people who can all knock down the shot."
On the Panthers ability to move the ball, Golden Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said, "From our perspective, it let's us know we aren't putting enough pressure on the basketball."
Pitt will play the 16th ranked Purdue Boilermakers (5-0) at home next Tuesday, which will be their biggest test since their opener against the Gonzaga Bulldogs (2-0). As most know, that game was cancelled due to poor floor conditions.