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Pitt winds down pre-conference play

PITTSBURGH—The Panthers followed a familiar script Wednesday night by playing a lethargic first half then turning the switch on in the second half. What was a 31-27 Pitt lead at the half turned into a 71-43 Pitt (11-1) win over Delaware State (5-7) at the Petersen Events Center.

“We got beat off the drive in the first half more than we should have. Their guards are very good and we were not where we needed to be defensively,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We got better in the second half first and foremost. We defended better and guarded the penetration better in the second half.”

The Hornets kept it close in the first half and actually took a 15-14 lead with 8:36 left in the first half. Tahj Tate stripped Travon Woodall with six seconds left and took it coast to coast for a layup and Pitt only led 31-27 at the half. Tate finished with 19 points overall.

Pitt had eight turnovers in the first half led by Woodall who turned the ball over three times.

“We knew we couldn’t win if we gave them too many possessions so we tried to slow the ball down. You can only play with emotion for so long,” Delaware State head coach Greg Jackson said. “They took it to another level in the second half. They beat us up on the offensive glass in the second half. The difference of the ball game was their defensive effort in the second half.”

The second half was a different story, as it has been throughout most of the season so far. Pitt tore off a 10-0 run after the break and outscored the Hornets 40-16 in the second half. The Panthers only committed one turnover in the second half.

Talib Zanna scored Pitt’s first six points of the second half on his way to a career-tying 20-point night, much to Dixon’s delight. Zanna also spelled starting center Steve Adams at times due to Dante Taylor sitting out with a sore heel. Zanna pulled down nine rebounds as well.

“(Zanna) has simplified his game. He’s letting things come to him. He’s finishing without bringing the ball down. He’s getting to the right spot,” Dixon said. He’s playing to his strengths. He’s feeling more comfortable plus the guards are doing a good job passing the ball.”

The Panthers out-rebounded the Hornets 35-14 and continued on their torrid assist pace with 24 assists in the game led by James Robinson who had nine assists. Woodall had eight.

J.J. Moore also scored in double figures with 15 and Adams added 10 points as well as eight rebounds.

“Our defense was stronger in the second half. We emphasized defense in the second half and pressured the ball more,” Moore said. “My teammates are boosting me, telling me to shoot the ball. I’m feeling a lot more confident than in the past.”

The Panthers play one more pre-conference game when they host Kennesaw State on Sunday at 5 p.m. before starting Big East play at home on New Years’ Eve day against Cincinnati.

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