GAME NOTES: The Pittsburgh Panthers attempt to keep their perfect record intact, as they welcome the Loyola Marymount Lions to the Petersen Events Center for a non-conference showdown on Friday night.
LMU is off to a stellar 6-2 start, although both of its losses came during the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, as it fell to Northern Iowa (90-81) and Vanderbilt (77-68), while posting a win over Marist (76-70) in between. The Lions returned to California on Monday night, dismissing UC Riverside in a road bout, 73-69, before making the cross-country trip for this matchup.
Pitt has been dominant so far this season, as it not only has a perfect 8-0 record, but all but one of those victories have come by at least 17 points. The Panthers ran over Texas Tech (76-53) and Stanford (88-67) on their way to the Legends Classic title before returning to Steel City to take down rivals Duquesne (84-67) and Penn State (78-69).
These two teams met just once before, in Los Angeles back in 1949, with the Lions prevailing in a 54-45 final.
The Lions had their latest game well in hand early in the second half, and even though they saw a 10-point advantage dwindle to just one later in the frame, they never squandered the lead en route to the four-point win. Despite shooting a poor 38.1 percent from the field, they had a stellar night at the foul line (21-of-29) and earned 23 second-chance points thanks to 20 offensive rebounds. Anthony Ireland led the way with 16 points, Gabe Levin tallied a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, while Evan Payne chipped in 12 points. On the season, LMU has had little issue putting points on the board, shooting 45.6 percent from the field for 79.8 points per game, but its problem has come in allowing nearly as many points at the other end (77.6 ppg). Ireland is the top offensive threat both in scoring (18.9 ppg) and with regard to getting his teammates involved in the action (5.1 apg). Levin in a mainstay at forward with 12.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, while Payne (12.4 ppg) and Ben Dickinson (10.9 ppg) are also regular contributors.
In what was their closest contest of the season, the Panthers trailed Penn State by a point with under six minutes to play before going on an 11-3 run to pull away for the win. They managed to overcome a poor showing from 3-point range (2-of-11) by shooting 44.4 percent overall and 28-of-35 from the free- throw line. Lamar Patterson stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, while Talib Zanna was also a multi-category performer with 16 points, 10 boards and four blocks. Cameron Wright and James Robinson added 12 and 10 points, respectively. Not surprisingly, Pitt has an eye- popping +21.9 scoring margin, as it nets 81.2 points per game while allowing under 60. It also outrebounds opponents by more than 12 boards per contest and owns a +3.9 turnover margin to add to its arsenal. Patterson is a versatile swingman with 17.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, all while draining 16-of-36 from 3-point range. Zanna (13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) makes two-thirds of his field goal tries, while Wright (11.5 ppg) and Durand Johnson (9.8 ppg) are great complementary options.
Making the long trip east would be a tough task for LMU regardless of the opponent, but having to go into the Petersen Events Center to try and beat a red-hot Pittsburgh squad seems like a near-impossible feat. Expect the Panthers' success to continue.
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