PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon watched his team melt down in the final moments in a loss at No. 2 Syracuse over the weekend and wondered how the Panthers, who he insists are still finding themselves, would respond.
“Is there going to be carryover? Are you going to be down?” Dixon asked. “I was concerned about that. But they looked more angry than disappointed.”
Talib Zanna scored 22 points on near flawless shooting and the 20th-ranked Panthers drilled Clemson 76-43 on Tuesday night.
Zanna connected on 9 of 10 shots, most of them dunks or layups, as the Panthers (17-2, 5-1 ACC) bounced back from the potentially crushing loss to the Orange by overwhelming the Tigers.
“We came out to prove something,” Dixon said.
At both ends of the court.
Pitt held Clemson to 32 percent shooting (16 of 50) and displayed remarkable willingness to share the ball on offense. The Panthers had 24 assists on 27 field goals.
“I think from the start of the game we just tried to play our style of game, play as hard as we can, execute as best we could,” Pitt guard James Robinson said. “We’re a very unselfish team. When somebody gives up their shot to let somebody else make a play, it usually comes back around.”
It came around often on a night the Panthers posted their fourth-highest margin of victory in conference play in school history.
Lamar Patterson scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds to become the 19th Pitt player to top 1,000 points and 500 rebounds and often served as the catalyst during a first half in which the Panthers raced to quick lead and never let the Tigers (13-5, 4-2) in it.
“They make plays out of nowhere every once in awhile,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “The defense isn’t as bad as it looks, they’re just so good passing the ball. It’s demoralizing to play defense for 30 seconds and give up a layup.”
K.J. McDaniels battled early foul trouble and finished with 11 points for the Tigers but Clemson appeared overmatched from the opening tip. Pitt needed less than 10 minutes to build a double-digit lead and cruised while handing the Tigers their worst loss of the season.
Clemson came in one of the bigger surprises in the new-look ACC. Wins over Duke, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest had the Tigers off to their best conference start since 1997. The game against the Panthers marked the beginning of a difficult stretch in which Clemson plays five of six on the road, including visits to North Carolina and Syracuse.
As promising as things have looked at times, Brownell admitted there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“All of a sudden you get slapped in the face a little bit and it’s real,” he said. “There’s nowhere to hide.”
There certainly wasn’t on a night the Panthers provided the Tigers with a glimpse of what life at the top of the ACC looks like.
Pitt used a quick 11-0 burst to take control, their fluid offense working just fine even without sophomore forward Durand Johnson, who is sidelined for the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee on Jan. 11. The student section wore white headbands — Johnson’s signature look — in tribute while his teammates did a pretty solid impression of Johnson’s streaky 3-point shooting.
Clemson came in ranked third in the country in 3-point defense but could do little more than watch as the Panthers hit 4 of 7 3-pointers during a near flawless opening 20 minutes. Pitt made 12 baskets during the first half, and recorded assists on all 12.
There was no such efficiency for the Tigers. Clemson had as many turnovers (8) as baskets during arguably their worst 20-minute stretch of the season.
The result was a 37-20 Pitt lead, the Tigers’ biggest halftime deficit this season.
“Our guys played like a young team that got a little nervous,” Brownell said.
It didn’t get any better. Patterson opened the second half with a 3-point heave that splashed through the net as the shot clock expired to give Pitt a 20-point lead.
At one point Clemson guard Austin Ajukwa received a technical foul with 8 minutes left for hanging on the rim after a breakaway dunk that made it 61-33.
Brownell screamed “We’re down by 40” at Ajukwa as the Panthers went to the free throw line. Robinson made the ensuing free throws to push the lead back to 30 as the “We Want Duke” chants started. The Panthers host the 18th-ranked Blue Devils next Monday.
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