PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh had more dominating wins over the course of its nonconference schedule than Sunday’s 59-43 victory over Kennesaw State, but that matters little to head coach Jamie Dixon.
“We’re starting over 0-0 now is what I told our guys going forward,” Dixon said. “I didn’t think we had our best performance (Sunday), but that’s behind us and we’re getting ready for conference play.”
Junior forward Talib Zanna led Pittsburgh in scoring for the second game in a row with 12 points and nine rebounds, and freshman point guard James Robinson added eight points and three assists. Senior center Dante Taylor, whose availability was questionable after missing the Panthers’ previous game with a bruised heel, played 13 minutes. He had three points and three rebounds.
Dixon also earned his 250th win as a head coach.
Sophomore guard Delbert Love led Kennesaw State with 12 points and three assists, and freshman forward Nigel Pruitt had 10 points and five rebounds, but the Owls fell to 1-11 and have lost 10 games in a row.
Given the difference in the teams’ records, it was a closer game at times than the Panthers probably anticipated. The Owls made four of their first six shots from 3-point range and trailed just 16-13 with 11 minutes to go in the first half.
Pitt went on a 10-3 run to open up its first double-digit lead of the game with four minutes remaining and led 30-16 at halftime. Sixteen points tied for the ninth-fewest the Panthers have allowed in a half in school history.
Kennesaw State again turned to 3-pointers in the second half and hit three in a row before tipping in a rebound to make it 39-29 with 13:48 left to play. They pulled within 10 points again at 44-34 on yet another 3-point field goal with 10 minutes remaining.
The Panthers outscored Kennesaw State only 29-27 in the second half and shot 40 percent from the field (8 of 20) compared to the Owls’ 45.8 percent (11 of 24). Kennesaw State held Pittsburgh to 42.3 percent shooting for the game (22 of 52).
Through its first 12 games, Pittsburgh outscored opponents by a plus-25 margin and shot 52.5 percent from the field (353 of 672).
“To hold them to 42 percent may have been our better defensive effort,” Kennesaw State coach Lewis Preston said. “I don’t know if some of that was them having one or two feet out the door for Christmas break or us actually doing some things and changing up defensively. Hopefully it’s the latter of those two.”
The Panthers dominated on the glass and inside, as they have done all season. They outrebounded Kennesaw State 38-21 and outscored them in the paint 32-12.
The Panthers (12-1) begin their final season in the Big East Conference Dec. 31 against No. 11 Cincinnati. The move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.