Tonight was TJ Warren’s night and there was no way that Pitt was going to stop him. The sophomore star for North Carolina State scored a Petersen Events Center record 41 points en route to an NC State 74-67 victory over a struggling Pitt basketball team. Warren played for a total of 38 minutes and connected on 16 of his 22 shot attempts.
That is not the way tonight was supposed to go. Prior to the game, the Panthers honored senior Talib Zanna, who eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark in an overtime victory over Notre Dame. Both Pitt seniors, Zanna and Lamar Patterson, joined the Pitt 1,000-point club this season. Patterson and Zanna are members 42 and 43 in the club.
Pitt got out to a hot start, shooting nearly 80% for the first 10 minutes of the game as they raced out to a 22-14 lead. The Panthers seemed to be in control of the game as they led 36-23 with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. A spirited Wolfpack run to end the half decreased the Panther lead to five, making it 36-31 Panthers at halftime.
The Panthers seemed to have figured everything out at halftime as they were able to increase their lead to eight at 44-37. But then rose TJ Warren; Warren scored 12 of NC State’s next 17 points to give the Wolfpack a 51-47 lead. In the middle of that run, Pitt guard James Robinson recorded his fourth foul and had to the head to the bench with just over 11 minutes remaining.
Robinson is one of the most important players in Pitt’s offense, and losing him hurt the Panthers immensely. Robinson’s foul trouble led to a career-high 34 minutes played for freshman guard Josh Newkirk.
Newkirk made the most of his minutes, recording a career-high 20 points for the Panthers. The freshman connected on all five of his five three-point attempts. Newkirk, not known for his shooting abilities said of his performance, “the first one felt good, I just continued to shoot it.”
Newkirk’s performance, overshadowed by TJ Warren’s, was one of the only positive takeaways from an all-around disappointing night for the Panthers.
Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon added, “he made it known as soon as he got here just how well he shot the ball.” Dixon later added that “Josh has been playing better and better. He has played better defense and we have to keep playing him more and more.” With a lack of offensive fire power, if Newkirk can build off of Monday night’s performance, it might bode well for the Panthers in the postseason.
Pitt was able to get within one point several times, but they were never able to neither tie nor regain the lead. Finally with 22 seconds remaining, TJ Warren put an exclamation point on the game with thunderous dunk to seal the 74-67 NC State Victory.
TJ Warren’s performance tonight was nothing short of spectacular, it seemed like no matter what the Panthers tried defensively there was no answer to Warren’s attack. The Panthers tried multiple zone defenses, man defenses, double teaming Warren, but there was no stopping him. A dejected Talib Zanna commented on Warren’s spectacular showing “TJ was really hot, we tried to double team him, and he just kept hitting shots.”
NC State coach Mark Gottfried, pleased with his team’s victory, said that “TJ was spectacular, he was special, no question about it. He made big shots for our team, and he kept making big shots late in the game. We finished the game out, which is something at times we haven’t done.”
Several publicized NBA mock drafts have Warren getting drafted in the first round of June’s draft. For more on TJ Warren’s draft stock check:NBA Draft Express
While allowing Warren to score 41 points is concerning for the Panthers, the more concerning number is two. Two is the number of offensive rebounds that the Panthers were able to secure Monday night. That is tied for the lowest offensive rebound total in the Jamie Dixon era.
Dixon, clearly displeased with his teams efforts on the boards said, “we have been stressing rebounding all along. I think our guys don’t recognize it, tonight we set records with our poor rebounding. I do not know how we can only come away with two offensive rebounds.”
Whatever was the cause of Pitt’s many issues Monday night, one thing is for sure, if this Pitt basketball team has plans on being in the NCAA tournament they need to win a couple of ACC tournament games. At 22-8 with no signature wins, Pitt leaves their NCAA tournament chances to fate, a system that has not boded well for teams in the past.
Pitt ends their regular season on Saturday at 4 pm at Clemson.