RALEIGH, N.C. – Pitt spent the first half of its Atlantic Coast Conference debut misfiring on offense while watching North Carolina State control the glass and beat the Panthers down the floor.
Jamie Dixon’s squad reversed everything with a strong second-half performance that secured the program’s first win its new league.
Lamar Patterson scored 17 of his 22 points after halftime to help Pitt beat N.C. State, 74-62, Saturday in its first road game this season.
Talib Zanna added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Panthers (13-1, 1-0 ACC), who rallied from an early 17-2 hole and a 34-26 halftime deficit.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Patterson said of the 18-game ACC schedule. “It’s something to build off now. I know what this team is capable of. We know what we need to do in order for us not to be down. We know what’s best for our team, and that’s playing defense, rebounding and getting to the rim.”
The Panthers checked every box after halftime against the Wolfpack (10-4, 0-1).
They outrebounded N.C. State after getting beaten 22-12 on the boards in the first. They scored 26 points in the paint after managing just eight before halftime.
They also held N.C. State to 8-for-27 shooting (30 percent) after the break, which helped lead to several transition chances and an 18-2 edge in fast-break points in the second half.
And Pitt shot 63 percent after halftime by playing more unselfishly and attacking the paint.
“A lot of people were saying we had to change the way we play because the ACC is up-tempo,” Zanna said. “But we’re bringing our game into the ACC and showing them how we do it and how we play. We did a really good job with the matchup.”
Patterson led the way by shooting 8-for-16 from the field and hitting two 3-pointers, including one to beat the shot clock over Desmond Lee for a 66-53 lead with 4:32 left.
The 6-foot-5 senior also had eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in 35 minutes.
Michael Young added a career-high 13 points for Pittsburgh, which shot just 9-for-27 (33 percent) in that miserable first half.
At halftime, Dixon said, he told his team that it couldn’t have played much worse, yet was still within reach if it stopped settling for jumpers, rebounded better and played tougher defense.
“I don’t think we understand what it takes all the time,” Dixon said. “We just don’t understand that the easy way is not always the best way. So open jump shots and soft defense may work at times, but it’s not going to be a consistent winner for you.”
Pitt opened the second half with a 24-8 burst, ending when Patterson scored on a hanging basket while drawing the foul for a three-point play that made it 50-42 with 13:19 left.
“We came out the second half and we looked stunned,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “We looked around at each other. We were staring at one another. I didn’t see that same energy and enthusiasm in the second half that we’ve had this year. So tough lesson to learn.”
N.C. State never could get back control, didn’t get closer than six points again and trailed by 16 late.
“The second half, we didn’t come out with any energy,” N.C. State’s Ralston Turner said. “They were pretty much the tougher team, no other way around it.”
T.J. Warren scored 23 points to lead N.C. State, one shy of his ACC-leading average. But after his score in the lane at the 15:12 mark, he didn’t have another basket until two in the final minute after Pitt led big.
Turner scored 11 points as the only other player in double figures for N.C. State, which lost an ACC opener for the first time under its third-year coach.
More alarmingly, it marked the third straight game N.C. State had squandered all or nearly all of a double-digit lead. The Wolfpack blew a 10-point second-half lead in a 68-64 home loss to Missouri last weekend, then let a 17-point second-half lead slip all the way to two in the final 4½ minutes of Monday’s win at UNC Greensboro.
“I thought the second half it was real simple: they out-toughed us,” Gottfried said. “They were tougher than our team was. Period. They defended us tougher than we defended them. They got after loose balls. They pushed the ball on the break. And we did not respond.”