The No. 5 Pitt Panthers (4-0) beat Maryland (3-1), 79-70, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City Thursday.

Freshman Talib Zanna had easily his best game as a Panther, scoring 14 points and pulling in 13 rebounds. Most of his production offensively came in the second half, giving the Panthers needed jump after a lackluster first half.

“Talib made some big plays, especially in the second half to get us going,” Jamie Dixon said on the 93-7 The Fan post game show.

“He’s around the ball, he get rebounds and he’s got nice touch. He’s just gonna continue to improve.”

Pitt led Maryland by just four, 31-27, at halftime, but Zanna quickly gave the Panthers a boost with a long jumper and layup in transition to start the second half. Wanamaker and Zanna hit soon thereafter, and a 3-pointer by Gibbs gave Pitt a 42-29 lead less than 2:30 in to the half, forcing a Maryland timeout.

The Terrapins surged coming out of the break, going on a 14-2 run to close the gap to just 1 point, 44-43, with 13:22 remaining. The two teams remained close for the remainder of the game.

However, the Terps never took the lead.

Zanna hit free throws with 8:58 left for a 60-54 lead and made 1-of-2 in his next two trips to the line for a 68-60 advantage with 4:34 left. Maybe his most important basket came with 57 seconds left — a tip in off a miss by Ashton Gibbs. That extended the lead to 72-66 and Pitt went on to win, 79-70.

“We rebounded well,” Dixon said. “We’ve challenged ourselves to be something special this year on the glass. Defensively we were good, not great. We made better decisions in the second half, but still not where we should be.”

The Panthers outrebounded Maryland, 43-23, and outshot the Terrapins at the line, 70 percent to just 47 percent. Those number comparisons went a long way in determining the winner Thursday night.

Maryland failed to make any of its seven free throw opportunities in the first half and finished the game 14-of-30 from the line. Pitt, on the other hand, finished 26-of-37 and hit seven in the final minute as Maryland attempted to foul to stay in the game.

Another comparison that helped Pitt was shooting 67 percent in the second half, compared to its 3o-percent rate in the first half. The largest lead by any team was four points in the opening 20 minutes.

“We were very disappointed in our first half offense, our execution,” Dixon said. “We just moved the ball a little bit better (in the second half). It’s something we do well, but these guys were getting in to us, there was a lot of holding and grabbing on both ends, both sides. It’s hard to create flow on your offense against a physical defensive team like that.

“We got going in the second half — better spacing, better ball movement.”

Ashton Gibbs scored 13, Gilbert Brown and Travon Woodall had 11 and Brad Wanamaker added 10 as the other Panthers in double figures. Pitt will move on to play Texas, who defeated No. 13 Illinois, 90-84, Friday night at 7 p.m.

“That’s a good win against a quality team,” Dixon said. “Now we’ve gotta get ready for tomorrow.”

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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