It's the kind of start you hope for as a Pitt fan. With a slate of 13 non-conference games, Pitt crossed the first one off the list in a 88-55 win over Savannah State.
"This time our emphasis was rebounding and obviously we did a better job in that area," head coach Jamie Dixon said afterwards. "We seem to have addressed the things that we need to work on, but there is always room for improvement."
James Robinson led six players in double-figures with 13 points. Derrick Randall, in his first game in a Panther uniform, added 12 points. Randall finished with a double-double, 12 rebounds to go with his 12 points. Durand Johnson also added 12, which included a trio of three-pointers.
Lamar Patterson finished with 11, and a team-high seven assists, as did true freshman Josh Newkirk. Cameron Wright finished with 10.
"“The new guys played great," Patterson added. "Josh [Newkirk] played great, ran the team well. Mike [Young] and Jamel [Artis] played well. They’re doing great right now.”
Randall and freshman Mike Young teamed for a stong inside presence for the Panthers, as he finished with eight rebounds to go with Randall's 12. As a team, Pitt had a decided edge on the boards, 47-28 for the game.
"Actually, it was more about just proving to everybody I can play and just doing everything right," Randall said. "Just being there for my teammates and just doing hustle plays and just doing defense."
Not to mention, a total of seven players playing their first game for Pitt. In addition to Randall and Young in the starting lineup, Jamel Artis, Chris Jones and Newkirk all made their debuts. Transfer walk-on Mike Lecak even entered the game with a minute to play in the first half--a rarity for a walk-on to come in that early. Freshman walk-on Joshua Ko got in late in the game, adding a pair of buckets to a nice ovation from the crowd.
"A lot of people have been saying all fall that we are young, but I never [made excuses] and I’m not going to start this year," Dixon added. "I’m not going to allow them to have excuses. They have got to learn from their mistakes, which there were plenty of them tonight, but we’ve got to get better for it."
Pitt quickly jumped out to a 19-4 lead, shooting 72.7 % (8-11). Though they cooled off--converting just three of its next 10 shots in the first half, they never really looked back.
Pitt led 40-13 at halftime. The 13 points allowed tied for the third-fewest points allowed in a half.
Savannah State provided a 10-3 run to start the second half. Pitt turned the ball over nine times in the first half. With three turnovers in the first five and half minutes of the second half, Savannah State was able to cut the deficit with that run. Obviously, the deficit was too much to overcome. However, if there was one concern from this game, it was Pitt's trouble in the turnover area.
"I thought we could have handled the ball a little better as far as some turnovers in the second half," Dixon said. "They got sped up by the constant traps and constant pressing, but that’s what they do and it’s the first game of the year so we have to get better at that."
That, and a 2-9 start from the field in the second half. Despite a fast start, if this first game of the season showed anything, it would be just converting shots and cutting down turnovers. Looks to the basket were good. Now, based on its struggle after an 8-11 start frome the field, simply just knocking these shots down.
Newkirk helped stop the bleeding a little bit. After starting the second half 2-9 from the field, as a team, Newkirk hit a pair of three-pointers to give Pitt a 63-37 lead, 9:39 left in the game. Not that Pitt's lead was in question, just a matter of converting a couple of good looks at the basket.
Of Newkirk's 11 points, the true freshman was a perfect 3-3 from three-point range.
Prior to the game, Pitt announced that senior forward Talib Zanna was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules, which led to Randall being in the starting lineup.
"It's just a team rule thing," Dixon said. "He didn't do the right thing."