Pitt routs Penn, 78-58, as Khem Birch and J.J. Moore make first career starts. Here is the early game story.
*** Freshman Khem Birch, starting for Dante Taylor (migraines), had 15 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double in his first career start. He added three blocked shots for the second game in a row. Birch missed his first layup attempt — he admitted to being nervous — but made 6 of his next 7 shots, including a pair of baskets off offensive rebounds in the first half, and a 3-point play early in the second half to give Pitt a 10-point lead on the way to the blowout.
“I was really nervous at first, as you could see,” Birch said.
*** Penn was the home team, but Pitt seemed to have just as many fans among the 6,843 at the 84-year-old Palestra. Philly natives Nasir Robinson (14 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals) and John Johnson (four points) both had their cheering sections.
*** Center Talib Zanna had a scary moment when he went to the floor midway through the second half, is fine. Coach Jamie Dixon actually shared a laugh with Zanna after the 6-9 Nigerian realized his sore, bloody knee wasn’t an ACL. Zanna was running across the court to help Nasir Robinson up after the Pitt senior and a Penn player got tangled up going for a loose ball. Zanna slipped on one of the Philly HoopGroup Classic stickers on the floor.
“It was scary,” Dixon said. “He slipped on a wet spot. It looked like an ACL to me. He was more scared than anything. He banged it. He cut it. As he settled down he realized it wasn’t what he first thought it was.”
*** Sophomore Lamar Patterson, suspended for two games, was serving the first of a two-game suspension imposed by Dixon. The Pitt coach wouldn’t say the reason other than he violated team rules. Patterson will also miss Sunday’s game against Robert Morris, a 51-44 winner over La Salle on Friday in the middle game of the Philly Hoop Group Classic triple-header.
“Lamar was not doing what he was supposed to do,” Dixon said. “There’s a right way to do things.”
*** Penn’s best player was clearly all-Ivy League guard Zack Rosen, who made a couple deep NBA 3s and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“It’s not fun to play against a guy like that,” Dixon said.
*** According to Dixon, Taylor doesn’t have concussion. His return is uncertain.
“Headaches. But no symptoms of a concussion.”
*** Ashton Gibbs went 1 for 7 from the field in the first half — making him 4 for 22 in his past 1 1/2 games – but he made 5 of 8 in the second half.