PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright just laughed when asked if the Panthers wait until they’re pushed by an inferior opponent before getting serious.
“I’m not going to say we’re fooling around,” Wright said.
Maybe, but at the moment there are few teams on Pitt’s schedule that can keep up when the Panthers get down to business.
Tray Woodall scored 14 points and tied a season-high with nine assists, and the Panthers pulled away in the second half of an 89-47 win over North Florida on Saturday night.
Dante Taylor led Pitt with 16 points and Talib Zanna added 15 as the Panthers (9-1) used their distinct size advantage and depth to wear the Ospreys down. Lamar Patterson scored 13 points and Wright finished with 10 points off the bench as Pitt won its fifth straight.
“Coach (Jamie) Dixon just came in there and told us it all started off with defense,” senior center Dante Taylor said. “He told us we had to pick it up.”
The Ospreys, giving away height at every position, settled for jumpers, one of the reasons they never made it to the free-throw line all night.
“I told our guys it wasn’t the officials,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. “You’re not going to get any foul calls unless you’re going to the rim.”
Something the Ospreys gave up doing once Pitt broke it open. North Florida had been competitive in losses to BCS teams Florida State and Kansas State but mustered little resistance when the Panthers clamped down.
Travis Wallace and David Jeune scored 10 points each for the Ospreys (3-6), but North Florida didn’t have enough firepower. The Ospreys scored just 20 points over the game’s final 25 minutes after briefly tying it at 27 in the first half.
“We’ve got to shoot open shots, wherever they are,” Driscoll said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. It’s really disappointing.”
The Panthers shot a season-high 59 percent (33 of 58) from the field and dominated the final 25 minutes. Pitt outrebounded North Florida 35-21, forced 17 turnovers and outscored the Ospreys in the lane 42-18.
“We were much better (in the second half),” Dixon said. “There were some breakdowns that may have not ended up in baskets as we wore them down ... but we need to keep building.”
The game was a homecoming for Driscoll, a Pittsburgh native. Maybe it was why North Florida looked so comfortable in the Petersen Events Center during a back-and-forth first half in which it had an answer every time Pitt made a move.
The Panthers led by 11 points early, but the Ospreys responded behind a flurry of 3-pointers to knot things at 27. North Florida struggled whenever Pitt was able to get its defense set, so the Ospreys looked for quick shots to catch the Panthers flat-footed.
Maybe Pitt was distracted by the presence of football coach Paul Chryst, who took in the game from behind one of the baskets along with a handful of recruits. Chryst received a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd, a salute that was likely more out of loyalty than the team’s 6-6 record.
There was speculation earlier in the week that Wisconsin might try to lure Chryst back to his hometown to take over for departed coach Bret Bielema. Instead, Chryst is sticking at Pitt, a rare respite for a football program that’s seen more than its fair share of coaching turmoil the past two years.
There are no such problems on the basketball side of things, though Dixon had several of his players on the move in the first half trying to find a combination that was interested in guarding the Ospreys. He found one in the final minutes, and Pitt closed the half on a 14-3 burst led by Woodall and defensive specialist Cam Wright to give the Panthers a little breathing room.
It would grow quickly in the second half. Freshman center Steven Adams got the Panthers going with a spectacular alley-oop, and Pitt wasted little time opening up a 20-point lead and cruised.
The huge advantage allowed Dixon to experiment and let Taylor show signs of life. The senior center has turned into a role player of sorts while serving as a backup to Adams. Yet he played with confidence after an early dunk, and his 16 points were six more than he scored in his previous five games combined.
“We went inside to him a couple plays and got in the right spot too on others,” Dixon said of Taylor. “He’s been doing great things for us and for his career, and I can’t say enough for him. ... I know more people want him to score more and at times we do too, but he’s a great teammate.”