The Pittsburgh Panthers showed off their depth Saturday night as the bench stepped up to lead the Panthers back from an 18 point deficit.
With 11 minutes remaining in the second half, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies watched the 18 point lead they spent 30 minutes building, slowly begin to evaporate. The Panthers would hit multiple threes to chip away at the large deficit. Oakland held a seven point lead with under a minute remaining before completely unraveling by committing dumb fouls and multiple turnovers. That’s right, multiple turnovers in under a minute.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and down by two, Panthers freshman James Robinson stole the ball and was quickly fouled. Giving him an opportunity to tie the game at the line. Robinson showed ice runs through his veins, as the freshman swished back-to-back free throws to force overtime. Once the extra period began, Robinson quickly nailed a jumper giving the Panthers its first lead since the first half. Pittsburgh never looked back, dominating the overtime to win 72-62
Although it was Robinson who gave the Panthers a lead, it was the work by Pittsburgh’s bench that paved the way for the comeback. The Panthers received 38 points from their reserves, led by J.J Moore with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dante Taylor chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds, seven of those rebounds were on the offensive glass.
The combined production from Moore and Taylor was the main reason Pittsburgh managed to prevent an upset. Freshman Steven Adams struggled to remain on the court as the big man couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. This opened the door for Taylor to play 28 minutes and look unstoppable with his relentless hustle, creating multiple extra possessions for the Panthers.
Meanwhile Moore was the leading scorer for the Panthers, as the team only had one starter who managed to score in double figures. Moore’s offensive spark was crucial in trimming the 18 point deficit as he had 11 points in the second half and overtime period. More importantly, he hit a three that put Pittsburgh up seven in overtime. It was the shot everyone knew would be the dagger for Oakland’s upset hopes.
Moore’s offense couldn’t have come at a better time since Tray Woodell struggled mightily in this game. Woodell shot just 2 for 14 and finished with only six points. Moore, who already has a 20 point game this season, is a huge asset for the Panthers with his scoring ability off the bench. It not only provides a useful offensive spark during the game, it also takes tons of pressure off key players like Woodell in the future.
It also takes a lot of pressure off the freshmen as well. Adams and Robinson have looked impressive starting all four games to begin the season. Adams has lived up to his reputation as an intimidating shot blocker and excellent rebounder. He’s proven he can score and play excellent defense. However, it’s the other freshman who’ll be getting a lot of attention after his performance Saturday night.
The 6-foot-3 Robinson hasn’t looked out of place logging big minutes for the Panthers. He’s already shown signs of being a leader as he hasn’t been afraid to tell older players where to be on the court. Robinson proved Saturday night he can be used in any situation with his clutch performance down the stretch. His heads up play leading to the steal that put him on the line to tie the game, was something you see out of a senior. Not a freshman in his fourth game. His calmness in draining the two free throws with the game on the line is something that can’t be ignored either. Although, he hasn’t scored much to begin the season, Saturday’s game could turn out to be a breakout performance for the freshman guard. Robinson finished with 14 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Coach Jamie Dixon knew what he was doing when he decided to start two freshmen to begin the season for the first time during his tenure at Pittsburgh. Neither has looked out of place through four games, while the bench has proven to be productive. Combine quality freshmen and an effective bench with players like Woodell and Talib Zanna, starters who already have 20 point games this season, and suddenly this Pittsburgh team is beginning to look very good.
Just how good? The true test will come on Nov. 21 when the Panthers face the Michigan Wolverines.