Pitt cruises past Wake Forest to remain unbeaten in ACC
Jamie Dixon saw enough from Wake Forest last week to know Pitt’s best bet to beat the Demon Deacons was to do it from the tip.
Wake Forest found that the Panthers are taking no pity on ACC opponents at home.
Pitt started strong and never trailed in scoring its second consecutive double-digit home victory in conference play with an 80-65 victory Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
“We want to be the first one to throw the punch. That’s how we always want to be,” said Pitt swingman Lamar Patterson, who scored a game-high 27 points.
“We’re just playing Pitt basketball right now. We want to grind teams out, see if they can last the whole 40 minutes with us. So far, we’re doing well, but we’ve got a lot of games left.”
Pitt (15-1, 3-0) is tied atop the ACC standings heading into its game at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Georgia Tech.
Only two other teams are undefeated in league play: No. 2 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0), which beat North Carolina, 57-45, on Saturday; and Virginia (12-4, 3-0), which defeated N.C. State, 76-45.
The Panthers are 3-0 in league play for the first time since 2010-11, when they won their first seven games in the Big East. Pitt started 0-2 last season and 0-7 in 2011-12.
It was Pitt’s fifth consecutive victory since a 44-43 loss to Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 17 at Madison Square Garden.
“The main thing is we have continued to improve, and we expect to do things well,” Dixon said. “The team has improved dramatically and takes pride in their improvement.”
It was the second consecutive defeat for Wake Forest (11-5, 1-2), which beat then-No. 19 North Carolina, 73-67, on Sunday in its ACC opener but lost at Virginia, 74-51, on Wednesday.
Pitt never trailed after jumping out to an 8-1 lead in the first 3:50. The Panthers led 40-26 by halftime after making 14 of 28 shots from the field and outrebounding the Demon Deacons, 24-15.
That was a dramatic turnaround from Pitt’s first two ACC games. The Panthers fell behind N.C. State by 15 early before cutting its deficit to eight at the half in a 74-62 victory, then overcame an early deficit to lead Maryland by six before rolling to a 79-59 victory.
“One thing we’ve done well is not panic when things don’t go well over the years,” Dixon said. “If you’re doing things right, they’re going to turn your way.”
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik pointed to two plays that distinguished the difference in the toughness between the teams.
The first came after Durand Johnson missed his second free throw with Pitt leading 29-22 at 5:01 of the first half.
The ball hit the floor, and Patterson picked it up and scored on a lay-in for a nine-point advantage. The other came in the second half, when Johnson had his shot blocked but chased down a loose ball to the opposite 3-point line and fed a pass to Cam Wright, who dished to Talib Zanna for a 62-46 lead.
Pitt scored on nine of its first 10 possessions to start the second half.
“We also participated in allowing them to grow their lead,” Bzdelik said.
Wake Forest couldn’t stop Pitt, which shot 49.1 percent (26 of 53) from the field, going 14 of 28 in the first half. The Demon Deacons, who scored almost a third of their points at the free-throw line (21 of 31), got 17 points and nine rebounds from sophomore Devin Thomas before he fouled out with 5:16 remaining.
Dixon was pleased with how the Panthers defended in holding Wake Forest scoring leader Codi Miller-McIntyre to 10 points, 5.9 below his average, and senior forward Travis McKie to six, 4.2 below his average. Coron Williams, a fifth-year senior transfer from Robert Morris, came off the bench to score eight of his 10 points in the second half.
Wake Forest had no answer for Patterson, who made four of his 10 field goals from 3-point range, or Zanna, who recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Pitt controlled the boards 38-28 and assisted on 19 of its 26 field goals.
But the key was the strong start.
“It felt good to be the aggressors from the jump,” Pitt point guard James Robinson said. “I think that’s something we’re really going to have to continue to do and make that our thing.”