PITTSBURGH (AP)—Just like many highly recruited players who must adjust to sitting the bench in college, Levon Kendall was told to be patient and his time would come.
It did, just when No. 18 Pitt needed a lift with its top rebounder and inside defender, Chevy Troutman, injured and out against an undefeated opponent.
Kendall, barely used in Pitt’s first nine games, led a decisive first-half surge that carried the Panthers past Murray State 70-49 Saturday night.
Carl Krauser scored 19 points and Kendall, a 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman who had scored only four points all season, helped fill in for the injured Troutman with 11 points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists.
Murray State (8-1) didn’t have a starter taller than 6-foot-7, a considerable disadvantage against Pitt’s tall and deep bench.
The 6-10 Mark McCarroll also played much more than usual because of Troutman’s absence and had 14 points and five rebounds in his first career start. Chris Taft, also 6-10, played most of the way at center despite not starting and had 10 points and a school record-tying seven blocked shots.
“We were at a big size disadvantage,” Murray State’s Cuthbert Victor said. “Every time they brought in a sub, another big guy was coming in.”
Pittsburgh (10-0) matched its best start since the 1929-30 season and stretched its home court winning streak to 30 games, the third longest in Division I. The Panthers are 24-0 at home since the Petersen Events Center opened last season.
“We want to be undefeated when the Big East Conference starts (next month),” Krauser said.
Murray State (8-1) was averaging 87.6 points and was No. 5 in the most recent NCAA scoring statistics, but the Racers were slowed considerably by much-bigger Pitt’s 10th-ranked defense and never settled into a rhythm.
The Racers led 14-13 midway through the first half, but Kendall—a soccer goalie at his Vancouver, British Columbia, high school—came off the bench to key a 23-9 Pitt run that made it 36-23 at halftime.
Kendall had seven points and two steals in nine minutes—triple his usual playing time—in the first half as Troutman sat out with a groin injury.
“I have confidence in myself to be able to come in and make jumpers,” Kendall said. “I was told to be ready and that would be my role. We’re confident we can pick up each other’s slack.”
Kendall’s 3-pointer put Pitt in the lead at 16-14 and Krauser also hit a 3-pointer and a 15-foot jumper to finish off a 10-0 run that put the Panthers up 23-14. Murray State was held to one basket, Rick Jones’ 3-pointer, during a pivotal seven-minute stretch that included the run.
“Levon and Chris Taft were playing volleyball with those guys,” Krauser said.
Murray State, playing its first ranked opponent, trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half and never got any closer than nine. The Racers shot 29 percent (18-of-62) and were 4-of-24 from 3-point range.
“We knew their size would be an advantage,” Murray State coach Mick Cronin said. “We knew we had to shoot 3s to win and we didn’t.”
Victor, averaging 19.5 points, was held to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting as no Murray State player scored more than eight points. Kelvin Brown also had seven, less than half his 15.6 average.
Pittsburgh meets Florida State (10-0) Monday in what essentially serves as the championship game of the Pittsburgh Holiday Hoops Tournament, an exempt event with predetermined brackets played at campus sites and Pitt. Florida State held off Chicago State 47-42 earlier Saturday.
Pitt and Florida State are the only teams in the six-team field with 3-0 records.
“It’s how we hoped it would turn out when we put this thing together,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.