Pittsburgh Panthers basketball fans probably forgot what it was like to watch their team play well for an entire game and win going away. Those fans got a nice reminder in the Panthers’ 84-55 victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the second round of the ACC tournament on Thursday.
Pittsburgh came out right off the tip looking like a completely different team than the one that had struggled during the second half of the conference season. The Panthers jumped out to a double-digit lead early, mostly because they were feisty in a way that had not seen in quite some time. Seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna both played at their very best from the start, as Zanna was active underneath and Patterson was playing as free and as loose as ever. The way Patterson knocked down shots and commanded the offense was reminiscent of the way he controlled games earlier this season when he looked like a player of the year candidate. Zanna’s energy against Wake is something the Panthers need in every game going forward. While Patterson is the best player on the team, Zanna may be the most important. Zanna finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and played with a high level of confidence. Patterson led the way with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Wake Forest is certainly not a team that Pittsburgh can truly measure itself against, but it is a team that could have allowed the Panthers to find themselves. Pittsburgh will obviously get a real test against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday. Even if coach Jamie Dixon‘s Panthers lose, that game will give a solid look of what can be expected of them in the NCAA tournament. Pittsburgh needs to come out with as much passion as it did against the Demon Deacons. It may not get the Panthers a victory, but it could build confidence.
The Panthers were a fast-pace offensive team earlier this season, and played more like that in the victory on Thursday. If that trend continues, Pittsburgh could once again be a team that could make a tournament run.