College basketball exhibition games are essentially extended live-action practices, with the upper-level team playing more for on-court improvement than for a scoreboard win. On Sunday, No. 5 Pitt had that kind of exercise at the Petersen Events Center when the Panthers hosted Northwood (Fla.) University and beat the Seahawks 104-62.
"It's a good starting place for us," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. "We got off to a good start and I was impressed with Northwood and how much they battled and competed.
"We've got to improve; we knew that coming in and we know that after today."
Pitt opened the game on a 23-0 run, and Northwood - coached by Rollie Massimino - didn't score a basket until 11:34 remained before halftime.
"It started on the defensive end," junior guard Ashton Gibbs said after the game. "We really came out strong and we didn't let them score for the first ten minutes. That really affected our offense because we got easy transition breaks and we did a great job of finding each other in open spots and we took advantage of it."
While Northwood outscored Pitt 26-25 over the final 11:34 of the first half, the Panthers had a 20-point advantage in the second half. Predictably, Gibbs was the primary producer for Pitt, scoring a game-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting and a 5-of-8 rate from inside the three-point line.
In the second half, though, Pitt's big scorer was freshman J.J. Moore. With redshirt senior Gilbert Brown (hamstring) and redshirt freshman Lamar Patterson (ankle) on the sidelines, Moore was the primary reserve at small forward, and he scored 17 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
"He played well," Gibbs said. "He played with a lot of confidence; that's the biggest part of his game and that's the biggest part of basketball. If you're confident in your ability, you can do anything. You have to believe in yourself. He has a lot of confidence, and he's just got to keep it up. He has a good motor and he brings a lot of energy to our team. The best is yet to come."
Also absent from the game was junior power forward Nasir Robinson (knee). Redshirt freshman Talib Zanna started in place of Robinson and nearly posted a double-double, with 13 points and 9 rebounds in 22 minutes.
"Talib is a good player," senior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "We could see the improvement in Talib last year; even though he redshirted, we saw that he was maybe the best rebounder on the team.
"He knows his role. His role is to get rebounds, set screens, and try to get other players open. Today he got some open opportunities and we took advantage of them."
Wanamaker, who started at small forward but shifted to shooting guard at times, resumed his role as one of Pitt's main set-up men on offense. He had the game' lone double-double with 18 points and 10 assists, while redshirt sophomore Travon Woodall started at point guard and recorded nine assists in the victory.
Overall, Pitt had 29 assists on 35 made field goals.
"I think we distributed the ball well," Gibbs said. "Everybody, collectively, as a group passed the ball well, and we were in open spots and open positions when people penetrated, and that helped the passer as well. We just have to keep playing unselfishly."
"It's a strength of ours and it's always been," Dixon said. "I think this team could be one of the best we've had as far as moving the ball and making the right decisions. We're known for our unselfish play, and this team is unselfish, there's no question about it."
In addition to the efficient assist numbers and clear scoring advantage, Pitt also out-rebounded Northwood 39-25, shot 55.6% from the field and 55% from three, and committed just nine turnovers in the game.
Notes: Dixon said after the game that Patterson would have started if he was healthy…Dixon was also optimistic about the progress of both Brown and Robinson…J.J. Richardson was the only Pitt scholarship player to not score on Sunday…Five Pitt players scored in double figures: Gibbs (25), Wanamaker (18), Moore (17), Zanna (13), and Woodall (10)…Senior center Gary McGhee scored 7 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 19 minutes…Freshmen Isaiah Epps (12 minutes, 3 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds) and Cameron Wright (17 minutes, 4 points, 2 rebounds) also saw time in the game; Epps worked at point guard and shooting guard, while Wright played primarily at shooting guard, although he did log about a minute at small forward.