PITTSBURGH (AP) - A freak injury to key reserve Talib Zanna didn't rattle the Pittsburgh Panthers. Neither did starter Gilbert Brown getting into foul trouble, or finding themselves once again trailing at halftime to Big East-rival West Virginia.
Taking advantage of additional playing time, reserve Lamar Patterson scored a career-best 11 points to help the No. 4 Panthers to an easy 71-58 win on Thursday night.
``It felt real good,' Patterson said. ``In practice, I've been playing pretty good, so it felt good to go out on the court and finally put something together.'
He got his opportunity after Zanna broke his right thumb after the pre-game meal while, as coach Jamie Dixon put it, he was ``messing around' with some teammates while getting into a car. Zanna will have surgery Friday and is expected to miss between three and six weeks.
Then there was Gilbert being forced to the bench after picking up his third foul with 1:05 left in the first half.
With the Panthers trailing 31-30 at the break, Patterson scored the first five points of the second half to spark a decisive 17-5 run for Pitt (25-3, 13-2), which took another step toward clinching the Big East conference title.
Nasir Robinson scored 15, and Brad Wanamaker had 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Pitt bounced back from a 60-59 loss at St. John's last weekend and moved two wins ahead of second-place Notre Dame.
Casey Mitchell scored 22 for the Mountaineers (17-10, 8-7), who failed to build off the momentum of their 72-58 win over the Fighting Irish last weekend. West Virginia has dropped six of its past 11 after opening the season 12-4.
Another second-half collapse left the Mountaineers questioning themselves. Pitt hit 65 percent (15 of 23) of its shots over the final 20 minutes, while West Virginia shot 26 percent (6 of 23).
``The second half, it was just like there was a lid on the basket,' said Kevin Jones, who scored all nine of his points in the first half. ``I don't know, we didn't have the will or we didn't have tenacity to get back in the game.'
By comparison, Pitt won by showing poise and resolve.
After a back-and-forth first half that featured six lead changes, the Panthers took control in the paint - exactly what they did in a 71-66 win at Morgantown on Feb. 7, when they overcame a 25-23 halftime deficit. By driving the basket, they got to the line on three of their first four possessions.
At the other end, senior center Gary McGhee was a force, punctuating Pitt's dominance by blocking a 6-foot shot from Joe Mazzulla, and then rousing the crowd as he celebrated beneath the basket.
With the game tied at 31 in the opening minutes of the second half, West Virginia's Dalton Pepper got off an awkward shot that missed the rim. Pitt then went ahead for good at the other end as Patterson hit an easy layup in transition.
The Panthers opened the half by hitting five of their first six attempts, eventually building a 47-36 lead with 11:43 left.
``There wasn't a panic at halftime,' Dixon said. ``We had foul trouble, we had some things going against us, got off to a slow start, but we responded.'
Pitt has won 25 games in six straight seasons and reached 13 conference victories for only the fifth time.
The so-called ``Backyard Brawl' between two schools 70 miles apart has become a lopsided one.
In sweeping the two-game season series for the third time in five years, the Panthers extended their home win streak to six over the Mountaineers, while also winning for the ninth time in 12 meetings overall.
West Virginia started the second half cold, missing five of its first seven attempts, and never recovered. With the loss, the Mountaineers dropped into a three-way tie for ninth in the conference, along with Connecticut and Marquette.
``I've said for two weeks we need to win games. I don't care where they are or who it's against,' said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, referring to his team being in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament a year after reaching the Final Four. ``We aren't going to beat anybody scoring 58 points. ... It's frustrating to have that breakdown we have especially at this point in the season.'
The score would've been more lopsided had Brown not received a technical for arguing with officials after receiving his fifth foul with 1:42 left. Mitchell hit all four free throws to make the score more respectable by cutting the Panthers' lead to 66-56.
The Associated Press News Service
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