Panthers crush Savannah State 88-55 in opener

WILL GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
Panthers crush Savannah State 88-55 in opener
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Pittsburgh's James Robinson, left, shoots over Savannah State's Terel Hall (22) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Derrick Randall spent two seasons killing time on the bench at Rutgers.

Finally on the court at Pittsburgh, the junior center didn't waste a chance to make an impression. Thrust into the starting lineup when senior Talib Zanna was suspended one game for a violation of team rules, Randall posted career highs with 12 points and 12 rebounds as the Panthers eased by Savannah State 88-55 in the season opener Friday night.

''I just wanted to prove to everybody I could play,'' Randall said. ''I was just doing hustle plays, doing defense, doing everything.''

Using his 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame to have his way in the lane against the overmatched Tigers, Randall grabbed nine offensive rebounds and while making 5 of 7 shots, most of them within a foot or two of the basket.

''He's a good rebounder,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of Randall. ''He's got pretty good hands and he finishes better than anybody anticipated.''

James Robinson led Pitt with 13 points while adding five rebounds and two assists. Lamar Patterson set a career-high with seven assists to go with 11 points and seven rebounds as the Panthers made quick work of Savannah State.

Randall, Robinson and Cameron Wright keyed an early 19-2 burst that showcased the more free-flowing offense Dixon promised would come as the Panthers make the move from the Big East to the ACC.

Pitt hit 8 of its first 11 shots, many of them in the lane or in transition.

''Early on, we were very good offensively,'' Dixon said. ''We were getting layups, getting open looks and playing the way we want to play.''

Alante Fenner led the Tigers with 11 points but Savannah State was never in it. The Tigers shot 31 percent (20 of 64) and were outrebounded 47-28.

The Panthers are still two months away from making their ACC debut, giving Dixon plenty of time to figure out which pieces go where as he tries to mix in seven newcomers with holdovers Patterson, Robinson, Wright and Durand Johnson.

''We've got experienced guys and we've got young guys,'' Dixon said. ''I could sit here and give you the speech ... (but) these guys have got to be ready to play.''

If Pitt is going to make a smooth transition from the Big East to its new digs, however, Robinson needs to be a bigger offensive threat after spending much of his freshman season deferring to senior Tray Woodall. Robinson spent a portion of the offseason working on improving a sometimes clunky jumper and becoming more aggressive with the ball in his hands.

The early returns were promising.

He scored Pitt's first points of the season on a pair of free throws following a nifty drive along the baseline. It was the kind of move he might have bypassed until much later in the game a year ago, when he often didn't look for his shot until after getting his teammates heavily involved.

That won't be a problem this year. Pitt finished with a respectable 16 assists on 26 baskets.

''Everything looked good,'' Patterson said. ''A lot of great assists, lot of good shooters ... I just go out there and do everything I need.''

The opener is the start of an ambitious nonconference schedule for the Tigers, who lost four starters off a team that went 19-15 a year ago and finished third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Savannah State will also play Florida, Baylor, Utah and Miami among others.

Challenging environments are nothing new for the Tigers, but coach Horace Broadnax thought his players might have been a little overwhelmed early on.

''We came out kind of slow and sluggish and nervous,'' Broadnax said. ''(Pitt) set the tone going to the basket and we didn't.''

Savannah State gave away size at nearly every position and struggled to get off clean looks. The result was a mismatch. The Tigers shot just 4 of 23 (17 percent) during an ugly first half that allowed the Panthers to open a 40-13 lead. The 13 points allowed by Pitt were the third-fewest by the Panthers in a half in the last 63 years, though things loosened up a bit in the second half as Dixon went deep into his bench to give his newcomers extended playing time.

The result was 16 turnovers and a steady stream to the free throw line as both teams adjusted to a new emphasis by officials to take away contact in the lane, which led to a combined 52 free throws and 48 fouls.

''We're going to have to cut down on the fouls,'' Dixon said. ''We're going to have to adjust.''