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PITTSBURGH (AP) — His team struggling to take care of the ball during a sloppy first half Wednesday night against Omaha, Pittsburgh coach Kevin Stallings opted not to call timeout. Instead he turned around, pointed to a couple of reserves and sent them on the floor instead.
"I used my bench to send a message," Stallings said. "And all of a sudden the energy got better."
Michael Young flirted with a triple double, finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and Pittsburgh got it together during a pivotal surge at end of the first half before cruising to a 94-75 victory. Jamel Artis added 19 points for the Panthers (10-2), who have won four straight since a stunning loss to Duquense in the annual City Game earlier this month. Ryan Luther battled foul trouble but finished with 11 points in 19 minutes, though his school-record run of consecutive field goals made ended at 15 when he missed his last two.
Pitt shot 32 of 57 (56 percent) from the field and outrebounded the smaller Mavericks 38-27 and were never in any real trouble following an 18-2 run to end the first half. Freshman point guard Justice Kithcart provided a spark, using his quickness to disrupt Omaha's backcourt and converting a steal into a layup in the final minute as the Panthers took control. Kithcart finished with five points and four assists in 21 minutes, the most playing time he's logged since the season opener against Eastern Michigan.
"There are things that will get him on the floor and things that will get him off the floor," Stallings said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist (to figure out), 'The more I do the things coach tells me to do, the more I get to play.'"
Tre'Shawn Thurman led the Mavericks (7-6) with 18 points. Tra-Deon Hollins chipped in 17 as Omaha hung with the bigger, deeper Panthers for the opening 15 minutes but saw its three-game winning streak end during its first-ever game against an ACC school. The Mavericks played without third-leading scorer Zach Johnson, who remained back at the team hotel while battling an illness.
The Panthers endured an ugly stretch during the first half and were particularly careless with the ball. Omaha actually took a 31-28 lead on a layup by Thurman with 3:50 left in the first half as the crowd at the normally raucous Petersen Events Center booed.
Omaha's momentum didn't last. Luther hit a 3-pointer to tie it then followed with a layup. Cameron Johnson tipped in a Sheldon Jeter miss and Chris Jones hit a lay-up in transition. Young finished the surge by hitting an 18-foot jumper then a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to put the Panthers up 46-33 at the break.
"That three-and-a-half minutes really hurt us," Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. "They're long, they're athletic and eventually get into you. When they could make baskets and get their press set and use their length (it was a problem)."
Omaha: The Mavericks can score. It's defending when it matters against quality competition that continues to be an issue. Omaha's pressure forced the Panthers into turnovers and easy transition buckets early but once Pitt settled down, the Mavericks couldn't get stops.
Pitt: The Panthers remain very much a work in progress with just 10 days to go before the ACC opener against Notre Dame. The sloppiness in the first half (at one point the Panthers had 10 assists and 10 turnovers) would have been more costly against a more proven team.
Pitt has struggled at times closing out opponents during nonconference play. The Mavericks twice drew within 10 in the second half but each time Pitt responded. A jumper by Artis finished off an 18-6 burst that made it 81-59 and allowed Stallings to substitute liberally over the final minutes.
"It was great job for us to get two halves together," Young said. "It was good to be able to finish out a game the way we would like to."
Stallings said the Panthers finished the first semester with a team grade point average over 3.0, the highest the program has ever received.
"It's the best Christmas present they could give me," Stallings said.
Omaha: Opens its Summit Conference schedule at South Dakota on Dec. 29
Pitt: Wraps up nonconference play against Marshall next Wednesday.
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