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November 14, 2012The C.J. McCollum show made a brief stop in Pittsburgh, but when the curtain dropped Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center, it was Pitt who earned the chance to take its show on the road to Madison Square Garden.
Thanks to 23 points from Tray Woodall, 20 from Talib Zanna and a 78-53 win against Lehigh in the second round of the preseason NIT, the Panthers move on to face No. 5 Michigan in the semifinals next week.
The Panthers blew the game open early in the second half, coming out of the locker room with what Woodall called "a lot of fire" and executing offensively and defensively. Pitt outscored Lehigh, 21-6, the first seven minutes of the second half. Pitt led by just five, 35-30, after the first half.
"We didn't want to settle for jump shots," Woodall said. "We wanted to run our sets. In a lot of our sets, we get guys open layups. We wanted to feed our big guys inside also and we got a lot of stops."
Woodall and the other guards certainly fed the post, with Zanna leading the way inside on his 8-for-9 shooting.
And a lot of those stops came against the Mountain Hawk they needed to focus on the most - McCollum.
The senior guard whose name appeared on numerous preseason All-American teams and averaged 21.9 points per game last season picked up his second foul with 5:24 remaining in the first half and never truly got in a rhythm. Pitt limited him to 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and five turnovers.
Coach Jamie Dixon gave freshman guard James Robinson the assignment of guarding McCollum from the opening tip, and Robinson didn't disappoint.
"That's a freshman, man," Woodall said of his rookie backcourt teammate. "He went out there and did a heck of a job on a senior, one of the guys that's one of the elite players in the country, and [James] definitely showed up tonight."
Dixon said that while team defense played a significant role in stopping McCollum, Robinson continues to impress with his defense.
"He's deceptively athletic. He's big, he's got good size, he's smart, he's tough and he takes great pride in [defense]," Dixon said. "It's very rare to have a freshman defend like he can."
Another freshman who contributed was redshirt freshman Durand Johnson, who scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in 17 minutes - the first extended action of his collegiate career.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "Coach [Dixon] got on me a lot, talking about being solid, coming out and being patient. I just focused on the defensive end and doing what my team needed me to do to help get the win."
Steven Adams was quiet offensively, going 3 of 7 from the field and scoring six points in 22 minutes. Woodall shot 8 of 13, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range, and dished out eight assists.
Pitt returns to the court Saturday night to take on Oakland at 7 p.m.