Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna (42) shoots over Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Fresno State came out hot and jumped out to an early lead after flying across the country.
Then, the Bulldogs got zoned out.
Talib Zanna returned after sitting out the season opener and had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Pittsburgh pulled away after switching to a zone defense in a 75-54 win over Fresno State on Tuesday night.
“Obviously, our zone was good for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We will be using it, we have been using it, we practice it all the time, we used it last year and will use it more and more this year. I think we’ve got the personnel for it.”
Cameron Wright added a career high-tying 13 points and added six rebounds for the Panthers, who dominated the paint and the glass. Pitt (2-0) had a 48-25 edge in rebounds and a noticeable advantage in scoring from the post.
After being suspended for a violation of team rules for the Panthers’ win three days earlier, the 6-foot-9 Zanna made eight of 10 field goals and grabbed more rebounds on his defensive end of the floor (nine) than the entire Bulldogs team did (five).
Freshman Paul Watson had 18 points to lead Fresno State (1-1), which traveled east of the Mountain time zone for the first of two trips this season. Cezar Guerrero added 10 points and a team-high seven assists for the Bulldogs.
“This was a great opportunity for us to come across the country and play a very well-coached team and a team and a program that really has hung their hats over the years on defense and on rebounding,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said.
“They did something we weren’t expecting to see a lot of, playing zone defense tonight. They did a great job with us; they took us out of our rhythm.”
Pitt began a season-opening Friday rout of Savannah State on a 19-2 run. Against the Bulldogs, the Panthers weren’t as dominant right from the tip – the game was tied 15-15 almost 10 minutes in – but switching from their trademark man-to-man to a 2-3 allowed Pitt pull away before halftime.
The zone perplexed a Bulldogs team that had scored 98 points in its season opener Friday. Pitt closed out the first half by scoring the final 13 points. The Panthers took a 35-18 lead at the half, and the margin wouldn’t drop below 15 the remainder of the game.
“In the beginning of the game, (Fresno) came out very strong; they were hitting a lot of shots and we weren’t getting shots,” Wright said. “But we have a great coaching staff, and they made adjustments and went to the 2-3 zone, and that worked for us in our favor and we stuck with it.”
Fresno State won 98-97 in overtime at UC Irvine Friday on an Allen Huddleston half-court shot at the overtime buzzer. The Bulldogs wouldn’t be close enough at the end to pull that off Tuesday. Huddleston, a reserve guard, finished with seven points against Pitt.
After making 33 field goals and shooting 52 percent from the floor at UC Irvine, Fresno State was held to almost half as many points, a 38 percent shooting effort and 19 field goals against the Panthers.
Starting the season without 6-9 Braeden Anderson (injuries associated with a car accident) and 6-11 sophomore Tanner Giddings (wrist injury), Fresno State’s undersized lineup was at a disadvantage throughout against a Pitt team that was one of the best in the country in rebounding margin last season.
Pitt, which had more defensive rebounds (30) than Fresno State had total rebounds, held a 52-12 edge in points in the paint. The Panthers had just 10 turnovers. Although they shot 45 percent from the field, they missed all 11 of their 3-point attempts, setting a school record for futility from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t shoot it great, obviously,” Dixon said, “but when you do a lot of other things well, you come out with big wins against pretty good teams.”
In winning the first meeting between them and Fresno State, the Panthers improved to 103-3 against nonconference opponents at the 12-year-old Petersen Events Center.
Zanna’s game was the seventh of the senior’s career in which he had at least 10 points and 10 rebounds. He fell one point short of his career high of 20 points.
“There were times where I just needed to get the ball and score, and my teammates decided to just get the ball inside, ‘Just let the bigs get some touches,'” Zanna said.