PITTSBURGH (AP)—In their final tuneup before Big East play begins, No. 10 Pittsburgh proved its versatility.
With leading scorer Aaron Gray stifled by Florida A&M’s zone defense, the Panthers relied on perimeter shooting in a 77-51 victory Saturday night.
Mike Cook had 16 points and Antonio Graves added 14 for Pitt, which made a season-high 13 3-pointers one game before opening conference play Thursday night at Syracuse.
“Basically, they played the soft zone, so there were a lot of open shots,” said point guard Levance Fields, who had 10 points and five assists. “Most of them, we took. We didn’t a have a problem shooting, and we shot pretty well from the outside.”
The Panthers (12-2), who never trailed, have won two in a row at home after losing two straight on the road earlier this month.
Rome Sanders had 16 points to lead the Rattlers (6-7), who are 0-33 all-time against ranked teams.
“We came in with one goal: make them shoot 30 3s,” Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie said. “We felt we didn’t have an answer for the mountain (Gray) in the middle there. We made guys shoot that normally don’t usually shoot for them. So we gambled and it didn’t work.”
Gray came into the game averaging 16.5 points but he was limited to 2-of-3 shooting and five points although he did have 11 rebounds.
Ronald Ramon added 11 points for Pitt, which led 37-26 at halftime and began the second half on a 11-0 run. The Rattlers, who shot only 32 percent for the game, did not score in the second half until nearly five minutes had elapsed.
Florida A&M, which had won five of its last six, attempted no free throws in the first half. Their first free came with 11:16 to play.
“I thought we really passed the ball well,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Our unselfishness was shown by 23 assists on 26 baskets—that really stood out.
“And I thought we did a good job on our defense. We did a lot of good things, and I think we just wore them down with our depth.”
The Panthers, who have won 67 of their last 68 home games against nonconference teams, will face another zone at Syracuse. The Orange are renowned for their 2-3 zone.
“Syracuse is going to play zone, so this definitely makes sure we’re ready for it,” Ramon said.
The game tied the second-largest margin of victory this season for Pitt, which has won its last two games by a combined 56 points. The Panthers’ largest win was 84-54 over Dayton in their previous game Dec. 23.
“Overall, I think we did well (in the nonconference schedule),” Fields said. “We lost two tough games on the road, but by far this is the best schedule we’ve ever had at Pitt. The nonconference games overall I think were good for us and will help us down the road. I think we’re ready.”
Florida A&M’s Brian Greene was ejected from the game after a flagrant foul on Sam Young with 14:36 to play.