PITTSBURGH — Georgia Tech was looking for its first Atlantic Coast Conference road win in almost a year, but No. 24 Pittsburgh was not in the mood to cooperate as the Panthers were nearly unstoppable and used second-half burst to blow open a close game and beat the Yellow Jackets 89-84 at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (13-1, 2-0 in the ACC) had five players reach double figures in scoring and used a 20-6 run midway through the second half to take full control of the game and never let up.
Forward Jamel Artis led the attack for the Panthers with 18 points while guard James Robinson added 18 and eight assists and forward Mike Young scored 17.
Robinson said the Panthers ability to score and hit free throws late is a big reason they won the game because they weren’t nearly as good on defense as they needed to be.
“We just stuck to the offensive game plan,” Robinson said. “We shoot to have less than 10 turnovers in a game and something coach is preaching is for all of us to make the right play.
“It is always good when we can close a game out on the line. Whoever steps up to the line, especially late in the game, we have complete confidence in them.”
Robinson referenced the Panthers, who lead the ACC in free throw percentage, ability to hit free throws because they made 25-of-30 in this game (83.3 percent) and outscored the Yellow Jackets by 17 from the line.
Georgia Tech (10-5, 0-2), which had two players combine for 50 points, was almost as good as the Panthers offensively, but head coach Brian Gregory said it just wasn’t enough to keep up with Pitt.
“I don’t think any team I’ve ever been associated with has scored 84 points in regulation and lost,” Gregory said. “The way they played offensively tonight, we were to a point to where felt like we had to almost score on every play because we couldn’t stop them.
“They capitalize on every mistake you make defensively, they can isolate you in the post, they can knock down shots and they have five or six guys who have 80 or 85 percent better from the free throw line, they have a great team offensively.”
Georgia Tech forward Charles Mitchell, who finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, scored the first basket of the game but the Panthers responded with consecutive baskets, including a 3-pointer by guard Sterling Smith, to take a 5-2 lead.
The Panthers pushed the lead to five points at 11-6 after a jumper by Artis with 15:54 left in the half, then, after a layup by Mitchell, got their running game going and it sparked a 10-1 run over the next three minutes.
After a timeout, Georgia Tech got consecutive stops and converted them into baskets then Mitchell made a layup with 8:58 to play in the half to pull the Yellow Jackets to within 23-15.
Georgia Tech guard Marcus Georges-Hunt then made a layup, but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon thought he travelled, got animated in his objection and earned a technical foul.
Guard Adam Smith converted the two free throws and guard Tadric Jackson made two more and the Yellow Jackets were back in the game as they trailed only 23-21.
That sequence seemed to wake up the Panthers, who promptly went on an 11-0 run, capped by a layup by center Rafael Maia that put them ahead 34-21 with 5:11 to play.
“We did not play well on the defensive end,” Gregory said. “But they had a lot to do with that. I think we’ve improved on the offensive end but we can’t grind out key possessions on defense and the stops we did get were fouls.”
Georges Hunt closed the scoring in the half with a short jumper and it was 42-36 Pitt at halftime.
Adam Smith hit a 3-pointer with 18:36 to play to pull the Yellow Jackets to within 42-41 but a 3-pointer by Artis pushed the Panthers lead back to 45-41.
The Yellow Jackets had several chances to tie the game at 48-48 but couldn’t convert and finally it bit them when Sterling Smith hit a 3-pointer with 15:36 to play to push Pitt’s lead back to 51-46.
Travis Jorgenson hit a 3-pointer with 13:02 left to cut the Yellow Jackets deficit to 53-52 but again, they couldn’t get over the top as they turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and Pitt capitalized with a 4-0 run.
Pitt extended its lead to 63-54 with 10:16 to play with two free throws from Robinson and then Robinson hit two more to give the Panthers a 67-58 lead.
Young pushed the Panthers lead back to double figures — 69-58 — with two free throws then, after the Yellow Jackets came up empty, hit a short jumper and Pitt was in full control at 71-58 with 7:11 to play.
Georgia Tech never really got back into the game — despite some late-game 3-point heroics from Adam Smith — and the Panthers coasted to their ninth win in a row.
“I wish we could have extended the lead more once we got up by double digits but give them credit for battling back,” Dixon said. “They are a good offensive team and Smith hit some incredible shots for them. We’ve got to defend better but I like having a 15-point lead and having them score some at the end of the game.”
Smith led Georgia Tech (10-5, 0-2 in the ACC) with 30 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the 3-point line and Georges-Hunt added 14 points but it was not enough for the Yellow Jackets to pull the upset.
NOTES: Pitt has now won its past three games against Georgia Tech. … Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has 320 career wins, tying him with Everett Case (North Carolina State) for fourth on the all-time list for coaching victories through 13 seasons. … Georgia Tech has won only one road game. … The Yellow Jackets had not beaten a ranked opponent since Jan. 28 last season when they beat No. 23 Miami.