The #4 Pitt Panthers won in the first semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer over the Terps 79-70. The Terps were undone by atrocious free throw shooting and got outrebounded 43-25. Coming into the game, Pitt had a distinct “home court” familiarity as they were 24-11 since 2000 at Madison Square Garden. It was a great early season matchup for the Terps to measure where they are and to play a physical game. Make no mistake that both teams got after it and were very physical, and the referees did a good job regulating it although the foul situation caused problems for both sides.
During the first sixteen minutes of hoops, there were six ties and nine lead changes and the Terps had the lead 25-21 which was the largest lead for either team. However, Pitt closed the half on a 10-2 run and was up 31-27. Then after halftime, they went on an 11-2 run extending the lead to 42-29 with 17:32 to play. It truly looked like the Terps were going to get run out of the gym but Gary rallied the troops and were able to tie the game at 46. Then over the next six minutes, Pitt outscored Maryland 18-10 and was up 64-56 with 6:55 to play. The Terps were able to cut it to two or three points but were never able to get the lead back and were undone by their terrible free throw shooting (14-30, 0-7 in the first half).
Two players stood out last night, Talib Zanna from Pitt and Cliff Tucker for Maryland. They were not the hyped stars for their respective teams like Ashton Gibbs (13 points), Brad Wanamaker (10 points), or Jordan Williams (14 points, 8 boards), but they produced. Zanna, a redshirt freshman, was born in Nigeria and played soccer developing excellent footwork and played high school basketball at Bishop McNamara in Forestville, MD which is 15 miles from College Park. He was not highly recruited out of high school but Jamie Dixon, Pitt’s coach, saw potential. On this evening, he was a beast on the glass specifically on the offensive side and finished with 14 points and 12 boards using his footwork to get excellent position. He did a lot of the dirty work and hit his free throws. As for Tucker, he carried the Maryland offense as Jordan Williams struggled with all the big bodies that Pitt had coming at him and foul trouble. Tucker finished with 17 points, 3 boards, and 5 assists. He has taken on the burden of leadership as a senior and has become Maryland’s most consistent perimeter player. He was silky smooth and was able to keep Maryland in the game. However, there were times he tried to do things when there was nothing there and the team seemed to not get the ball in his hands for at key junctures last night. Tucker has the stones to take the big shot and also the leadership chops to help lead this team and I feel he is just as crucial to Maryland’s success as Jordan Williams this year.
With the win, Pitt plays Texas in the championship after the Longhorns got a hard fought 90-84 victory in overtime over Illinois. So Maryland and Illinois will lace it up at 5 today to play in the consolation round.