Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2014
GREENSBORO — The foundation of Pittsburgh’s NCAA tournament resume has been its lack of bad losses.
The Panthers weren’t about to get one in their first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game.
Pitt routed Wake Forest 84-55 on Thursday in the second round of the ACC tournament behind 24 points from Lamar Patterson.
Talib Zanna added 17 points to help the fifth-seeded Panthers (24-8) win their ACC tournament debut with ease.
“The message I was giving to our players is how well we have played on the road, and now we’re going to be playing on the road the rest of the way in our minds,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “So that’s what we’ve turned it into.”
They never trailed, shot 50 percent and established a 38-30 rebounding advantage while giving Wake Forest one of the most lopsided ACC tournament losses in school history.
In beating Wake Forest for the second time this season, Pitt claimed just its second conference tournament victory in any league since 2008 and matched a school record for its most lopsided win in a league tournament.
Pitt also beat Rhode Island by 29 points in the 1981 Eastern 8 tournament — the forerunner of the Atlantic-10.
“We’re playing our best basketball,” Dixon said.
The Panthers will play No. 15 North Carolina, the tournament’s fourth seed, in a quarterfinal Friday.
Coron Williams scored 16 points and Codi Miller-McIntyre added 10 for the 12th-seeded Demon Deacons (17-16). They followed their best shooting performance of the year — a 61 percent showing against Notre Dame in the first round — with a dud.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “And the inability to make some shots and to score, we just lost some confidence. We’ve been fragile with that throughout the course of the year at times (and) you got the score you got.”
The only drama in the second half was whether Wake Forest would wind up with its worst-ever ACC tournament loss — a distinction that still belongs to the 1966 team that lost its opener by 30 to Duke.
Josh Newkirk added 10 points for the Panthers, who went one-and-done in four of their final five trips to the Big East tournament before coming into the ACC this year along with Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Their first regular season in their new league ended with a decent amount of stress: Four of the Panthers’ previous five victories went to overtime, and until now, they hadn’t had the luxury of coasting since they beat Clemson by 33 on Jan. 21.
“We won convincingly — that’s how we want to win every game, but it’s not possible in basketball,” Patterson said. “So we’ll just take this momentum and get ready for tomorrow.”
Part of the reason this one was so easy was because Pitt completely neutralized Wake Forest big man Devin Thomas.
Thomas was coming off a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against the Fighting Irish, but he finished this one with eight points and six rebounds before fouling out against a Pitt team that had allowed only two double-figure rebounders in its previous seven games.
The Demon Deacons were 6-1 this season when Thomas had at least 10 rebounds.
“We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands, (and) when he did get it, make it tough for him to play,” Dixon said of Thomas.
The strength of Pitt’s postseason resume has been its ability to avoid those confounding losses — the worst teams to beat the Panthers have been Florida State and N.C. State, both of which are well above .500 — and being beaten by the Demon Deacons certainly would have qualified as one.
But at no point during this game did that seem like a possibility.
The Panthers set the tone early by scoring on eight of their first nine possessions and needing only about 51/2 minutes to push their lead into double figures. Pitt went up 39-23 on Zanna’s three-point play with 34.4 seconds left in the half and pulled away in the second half.
“They hit us right between the eyes,” Bzdelik said, “and we were on our heels throughout the entire game.”