Pitt zones out Fresno State, 75-54
Fresno State used the same strategy against Pitt that the Bulldogs did in their season-opening victory over UC-Irvine, shooting 3-pointers to overcome their size disadvantage.
The Bulldogs held the lead for the first eight minutes until Pitt switched from its signature man-to-man defense to a seldom-used zone in an attempt to cool their hot hands.
Fresno State got frostbite.
Talib Zanna had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh career double-double, and Cameron Wright tied his career-high with 13 points to lead the Panthers to a 75-54 victory over Fresno State on Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center in their first meeting.
“They did something that we hadn’t expected or seen a whole lot of,” Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. “They played a little zone defense. Over the years, they’ve been a really good man-to-man team. But they did a great job with their zone, and it really affected us and kind of took us out of the rhythm of what we were doing early.”
After Fresno State (1-1) made 5 of its first 9 shots, including 3-pointers on its first two attempts, Pitt switched to the 2-3 zone to use its size advantage.
“They came out very strong,” Wright said. “They were hitting a lot of shots. We weren’t getting stops. We have a great coaching staff, and they adjusted. The 2-3 zone, I guess, worked for us in our favor, and we stuck with it. We’re very versatile. We can play one-on-one defense, and we can also play zone, and we rebound out of the zone, which is very important.”
Fresno State played without 6-foot-11 sophomore center Tanner Giddings, who has a cast on his right hand, and 6-9, 225-pound forward Braeden Anderson. Its tallest player was 6-9 junior swingman Alex Davis.
“Obviously, a zone was good for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We will be using it. We have been using it in practice all the time. We used it more last year, and we’ll use it more this year. I think we’ve got the personnel for it. We’ve got a lot of work to do with it, as well.”
“I had a feeling they’d be hard to guard with their four guards there on the perimeter.”
The Panthers (2-0) also dominated Fresno State on the boards, 48-25. The Bulldogs didn’t have an offensive rebound in the first half, and finished with only five to Pitt’s 18.
Fresno State, which went 14 of 30 on 3-pointers against UC-Irvine, made only two of their final 15 shots from the field in the first half against the zone.
“Their zone really affected us the latter part of the first half,” Terry said. “We didn’t do a great job of executing. We settled for some shots as opposed to really working the ball, working the gaps. The middle was wide-open for us when they were in their zone the first half. We just didn’t take advantage of that.”
Pitt tied the score 15-15 on Lamar Patterson’s shot in the lane and then outscored the Bulldogs, 20-3, in the final 11:05 of the first half. That run saw the Panthers score the final 13 points for a 35-18 halftime edge.
Zanna, a 6-9 senior who was suspended for the opener against Savannah State for a violation of team rules, finished 8 of 10 from the field in 27 minutes.
Wright made 6 of 11 shots with six rebounds, four steals and two assists in 28 minutes. Freshman forward Michael Young finished with six points and nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end, and Jamel Artis added nine points and five rebounds.
“We didn’t expect them to come out and play (zone) as their primary defense,” Terry said. “Just like any good coach, Coach Dixon, once you find something that’s working for you, you steal some possessions and you stay in it until they figure it out. He did a great job of that.
“I don’t think it was something we weren’t prepared for, just not for an extended period of time.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review sports columnist. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .