PITTSBURGH—Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum was supposed to be the feature act at Tuesday night’s NIT second round game at the Petersen Events Center. There were no less than 20 NBA scouts in attendance to watch his performance. Pitt held him to 17 points and forced him to commit five turnovers.
Lamar Patterson fights Lehigh's Mackey McKinght for a loose ball Tuesday night
“[Pitt] did a good job limiting my touches, and they had great help on defense,” McCollum said. “Their depth killed us on the inside and [Tray] Woodall scored too many points.”
Fortunately for the Panthers, McCollum was upstaged by Pitt guard Tray Woodall, who scored 23 points, dished 8 assists with only 1 turnover, and pulled down four rebounds in fueling Pitt’s 78-53 win. Woodall credited the entire team in holding McCollum at bay including freshman James Robinson, who guarded him most of the night.
“We were aware of [McCollum] and we wanted to come out with that defensive effort and we had confidence in guarding McCollum,” Woodall said. “[Robinson] is a freshman and he did a heckuva job against a senior.”
Robinson felt the defensive game plan allowed him to be more aggressive against McCollum because his teammates were collapsing on him as well.
“I just wanted to be solid on defense because the team trusted me,” Robinson said. “I don’t want to say I gambled but I knew I could be more aggressive because my teammates had my back.”
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon credited all ten Panther players for having each other’s back.
“All 10 of our guys played well. It’s a good win against a team nobody wanted to play,” Dixon said. “We got them, and we played unselfish, we out-rebounded them and guarded McCollum well.”
Talib Zanna scored 20 points and pulled down six rebounds.
“I worked on my shot during the summer, stayed in the gym, and practiced my post moves and midrange shots,” Zanna said. “I just wanted to come out and play hard.”
His mid-range baseline jumpers were lethal according to Lehigh head coach Brett Reed.
“Zanna was a difficult thing for us to guard. Had he not had that 15 foot jump shot we could have guarded the inside more,” Reed said. “Give him credit for stepping in. He shot every shot with a great deal of confidence.”
Dante Taylor led all rebounders with 10. He also scored 4 points. Durand Johnon pulled down seven rebounds and added 9 points off the bench.
The Panthers led 35-30 at the half but tore off a 14-4 run in the first five minutes of the second half and never looked back.
“We faced a very strong Pitt team. They capitalized on a size advantage, they had strong guard play and that balance was too much for us to overcome,” Reed said. “[The Panthers] 14-4 run in the beginning of the second half provided them enough of a cushion and we weren’t able to recover.”
Besides McCollum, Gabe Knutsen was the only other Lehigh player to score in double figures. He added 12 points.
Pitt will now advance to the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden and face fifth-ranked Michigan next Wednesday.