Two games down, two games good. Pitt improved to 2-0 in ACC play with a convincing 79-59 win over Maryland on Monday night.
With the win, Pitt improves to 14-1 on the season. Maryland stands at 10-6 overall. The Terps were looking for their third consecutive conference win, something they hadn't done since 2001-02 when they won the national title.
On paper, it would look like it was Lamar Patterson's night again. While he did lead the team with 19 points, the Panthers got significant contributions from everyone who touched the floor. Durand Johnson--who only played eight minutes on Saturday at N.C. State--came off the bench with 17 points, including a 3-4 performance from three-point range.
"It's a great reflection of why he's improved as a player," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "I thought Jamel did well in the second half."
Talib Zanna and Cameron Wright might not have been as big on offense. Pitt certainly couldn't have had this win without Zanna's nine rebounds, and Wright's four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Zanna did finish with 13, nine of which came in the second half.
James Robinson finished with a game-high seven assists.
Evan Smotrycz and Seth Allen led the way for Maryland. Smotrycz with 14 points, including four three-pointers. Allen came off the each to lead Maryland with 18.
Maryland jumped out to the early 7-6 lead, even getting the first basket of the game. One thing noticeably different from Saturday's start to Pitt, was the pressure on defense. They were making Maryland work for their shots, twice taking the Terps to the shot clock expiration. Smotrycz hit one of those shots, a three-pointer from the baseline. Shaquille Cleare had a dunk waved off because by the time he received the ball, the shot clock expired.
Wright was a big factor early, on defense, coming up with a rebound and a pair of steals. He assisted on one of Patterson's first layups of the game. He later came up with a steal, then drove it all the way in for a layup, regaining the lead for Pitt at 8-7, exactly 15:00 left in the first half.
Maryland got the lead back, but it wasn't long after that Pitt got its three-point shooting in order. They got consecutive three-pointers from Josh Newkirk and Johnson. Pitt went back up 14-12.
To go with Wright's defensive contributions, Pitt was also getting some nice play from Johnson and Newkirk on the defensive end. Johnson pulled a ball out of the air, then pushed ahead to Patterson for a layup. Pitt took the lead back, 18-14 on a bucket from Newkirk, forcing Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon to burn his first 30-second timeout of the game.
Newkirk was another bench guy who stepped up big for Pitt on Monday night.
"He was good for us in the preseason, then he struggled a little bit, and now he's back," Dixon said. "He listens. He's improved. He was really good the other day. He was great today."
Smotrycz regained the lead for Maryland, 24-23, with his third three-pointer of the game, approaching seven minutes left in the first half. This time, it was a pull up fade away jumper. The Pitt defense was playing an aggressive man defense. They were forcing Maryland into tougher shots. Smotrycz wasn't fazed.
"I think those threes in the first half hurt us," Dixon added. "Having a four this can shoot like that, that's a different type of offense."
Maryland went up by three later in the half, but it was Patterson and Wright keeping it close. Patterson got free in the lane for another layup, cutting making it a 28-27 deficit, with 4:21 left in the first half. Robinson came up with a steal on the next Maryland possession. He fed the ball up to Wright, who tried to push a fast break. He found a wide-open Johnson, who missed from three-point range.
"We've always been good offensively," Dixon said. "Our biggest games have been when we've made transition baskets. That's been our emphasis."
Pitt still held that possession, ending it with a trip to the foul line for Robinson. He converted both shots, giving Pitt the lead back, 29-28 with 3:23 left in the half.
Johnson hit a three-pointer with two minutes left, giving Pitt a 34-28 lead, the largest lead for either team in the first half.
Zanna didn't show up much on the offensive side in the first half. He did pull down five rebounds. Even bigger, he came up with two blocked shots in the final five minutes of the half. One led to Pitt's final field goal of the half, a drive by Johnson. Pitt took a 36-30 lead into the locker room.
The second half continued with the same type of fast pace play on both sides. Even though Pitt tried to slow things down, they sometimes couldn't help themselves off a turnover or a defensive rebound
Both teams hit two field goals in the first two minutes of the half, with Pitt holding a 40-35 lead.
When Johnson is feeling it, he's feeling it. Robinson spotted him for an open look. He took it, his third three-pointer of the game, putting Pitt up 43-35.
Maryland answered with a couple of buckets--again, trying to push the tempo. Pitt answered with a layup from Wright. Pitt led 47-39, still 15:21 remaining.
With Maryland trying to push the tempo, it looked like they were trying to give the green light to Allen, while trying to open up Smotrycz on the wing. Smotrycz even all three of his three-point attempts of the first half--all of them contested. Even though Allen got a good open look early in the second half, Smotrycz missed his first four of the second half.
Meanwhile, Pitt answered back with three-pointers from Patterson and Newkirk. Pitt increased the lead to 55-44, with 13:29 left. Turgeon had to burn a full timeout to regroup.
"I though we were good for the first 18 minutes," Turgeon said. "We just didn't get it done late. I wasn't really particularly pleased I can't believe they're not ranked. They're as good a team as we've faced."
It was a night where every available player Jamie Dixon had, got involved. Jamel Artis got a layup, and was fouled. Though he didn't convert his and-one attempt, he helped extend Pitt's lead to 59-46, still not even halfway through the second half.
Dixon expected Maryland to try top push the tempo in the second half. They did. They didn't convert many of their chances. Pitt came up with the necessary stops on defense, while converting their scoring chances.
After missing five-three-pointers in the second half, Smotrycz finally connected, his three-pointer with 5:06 left. That brought Maryland to within 10, 66-56 in favor of Pitt. However, Zanna and Patterson answered. Zanna got inside, while Patterson added another jumper. Smotrycz' three-point shooting came up big in the first half, to give the Terps some early momentum. This late in the game, the Panthers were able to answer, helping close things down.
Interestingly, Dixon made one minor switch at halftime--substituting Johnson to defend Smotrycz to start the second half.
"Durand has been getting better on defense," Dixon added. "He was almost a 2-1 assist-to-turnover player, and now he's 3-1. I think he can help us in other ways, even if he doesn't score. He doesn't have to just make shot. That's been a constant theme of our team."
"They seem to make [shots]," Turgeon added. "It's not that simple. I don't think defensively we were dialed in, in the second half. I can't see a lot of teams coming in here and beating them."
The two teams will meet again on January 25, less than three weeks away. This is Allen's fourth game this season for the Terps. Based on Monday's performance, perhaps it's a matter of either getting him more involved or finding ways he can help jumpstart the others around him.
For Pitt, the win is nice. But in a way, they have to go on the road to face this team again, in less than three weeks. There will certainly be adjustments on both sides.
"I know we lost by 20," Turgeon added. "I'm more encouraged now than I was three hours ago. Correctable things for us. I feel like we're better than the score."