LAHANIA, HAWAII — So, this is what Pitt coach Jamie Dixon envisioned.
His Panthers sharing the basketball, knocking down open shots, executing defensively as if their playing time depended on the outcome (perhaps it did) and, finally, laying the wood to a good opponent.
Pitt’s 70-47 demolition of Kansas State for third-place in the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Wednesday night before 2,400 fans at Lahaina Civic Center met all of Dixon’s criteria — and then some.
“We did it the way we wanted to do it as far as defense and execution at the offensive end,” Dixon said. “I feel real good right now because you’re only as good as your last game.”
Pitt shot 55.3 percent (including 65.2 percent in the second half) and held Kansas State to 32.6 percent shooting (including 15.4 percent from the 3-point line). The Panthers made 26 baskets and 17 assists.
Junior point guard James Robinson scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures. Sophomore forward Michael Young contributed 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds, freshman center Ryan Luther scored 13 points (including 3-of-4 3-pointers) and sophomore forward Jamel Artis added 10 points.
Pitt (4-2) played its best game of the season — by far — against a Kansas State team that lost to No. 2 Arizona, 72-68, a day earlier — the same day the Panthers lost to No. 15 San Diego State, 74-57.
The less-than-24-hour turnaround revealed a Pitt ballclub anxious to make amends at the conclusion of a four-games-in-six days stretch that also included an unexpected 74-70 loss against Hawaii.
“We’re exhausted, probably more so than anticipated,” Dixon said. “I’m proud of our guys. This is something that they needed, and they earned it.”
It was a different Pitt ballclub that showed up Wednesday. Even after falling behind early, as they did against San Diego State, the Panthers didn’t deviate from Dixon’s gameplan.
Not only did the Panthers outscore Kansas State 19-8 late in the first half, they were even more emphatic with their second-half domination, outscoring the Wildcats 40-20.
Young, who scored 11 points after halftime, said the Panthers couldn’t remember being any lower than they were after the San Diego State loss.
“Being embarrassed on national TV — that’ll do it,” said Young. “We had to come out and play really, really hard on defense and pay attention to detail.”
Displaying more vigor and better execution at both ends, Pitt shook off a slow start — trailing by as much as 10-3 — and led 30-27 at intermission.
Robinson provided a spark, scoring 10 first-half points on a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 from the foul line.
Luther and fellow freshman Cameron Johnson, pressed into action this season because of injuries, gave the Panthers a lift offensively with three 3-pointers during a spurt that turned the game around.
Pitt’s defensive intensity created scoring opportunities that permitted the Panthers to beat Kansas State downcourt where Robinson utilized his quickness to get to the rim against backpedaling defenders.
The Panthers held Kansas State (3-3) to 39 percent shooting in the first half after San Diego State shot over 60 percent in the opening half a day earlier. Kansas State leading scorer Marcus Foster, a sophomore guard averaging 16.2 points who hit for 23 against Arizona, managed only 7 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Pitt’s strong play carried over in the second half. An 11-3 run gave the Panthers a 41-30 lead on another Luther 3-pointer. Following a Pitt steal, Luther dunked to make it 43-32.
Young also got hot, scoring nine points in the first 10 minutes on 4-for-6 shooting after going 1-for-5 in the first half.
Kansas State pulled to within 49-41 with plenty of time for a comeback. The Panthers regrouped, ran their offense and extended the lead back to double figures, maintaining it to the end.
“We knew they were not going to quit, so we had to turn it up another notch for that last 20 minutes,” Robinson said.
Pitt’s next game is Dec. 2 at Indiana.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].