PITTSBURGH -- Talib Zanna scored 22 points on near flawless shooting and No. 20 Pittsburgh drilled Clemson 76-43 on Tuesday night.
Zanna connected on 9 of 10 shots, most of them dunks or layups, as the Panthers (17-2, 5-1 ACC) bounced back from a loss to No. 2 Syracuse by crushing the upstart Tigers (13-5, 4-2). The 33-point margin of defeat was Clemson’s worst since a 78-41 loss at Virginia last season.
Pitt shot 56 percent overall and made 14 of 18 free throws as well. The Panthers enjoyed a +5 advantage on the glass and had an astounding 24 assists on 27 made field goals.
Lamar Patterson added 13 points, six rebounds and four assists for Pitt as the Panthers put a halt to Clemson's three-game winning streak.
K.J. McDaniels battled early foul trouble and finished with 11 points for the Tigers but Clemson was never in it. Pitt needed less than 10 minutes to build a double-digit lead.
“It throws him out of a rhythm," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "He is clearly our best player and our most dangerous player on offense. It just threw him out of rhythm. We sat him for a while and we were able to hang close for a little bit.
"All of a sudden I had to put him back in the game. He does alright that way but he has had a couple games where he’s ended up like that and he hasn’t played as well. He’s an aggressive guy and sometimes when he has a foul or two he doesn’t play as well.”
Clemson came in one of the bigger surprises in the new-look Atlantic Coast Conference. Wins over Duke, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest had the Tigers off to their best conference start since 1997. The game against the Panthers marked the beginning of a tough stretch in which they play five of six on the road, including visits to North Carolina and Syracuse.
While Clemson may be on the rise, Pitt left little doubt there's plenty of work to do if the Tigers want to be considered among the ACC contenders.
The Panthers, six games into their first season in one of the nation's top leagues, is already there. Clemson has the nation's top scoring defense, allowing just over 55 points a game, but there was no keeping Zanna or anyone else wearing white in check.
Pitt used a quick 11-0 burst to take control, their fluid offense working just fine even without sophomore forward Durand Johnson, who is sidelined for the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee on Jan. 11. The student section wore white headbands -- Johnson's signature look -- in tribute while his teammates did a pretty solid impression of Johnson's streaky 3-point shooting.
Clemson came in ranked third in the country in 3-point defense but could do little more than watch as the Panthers hit 4 of 7 3-pointers during a near flawless opening 20 minutes. Pitt made 12 baskets during the first half, and recorded assists on all 12.
There was no such efficiency for the Tigers. Clemson had as many turnovers (8) as baskets during arguably their worst 20-minute stretch of the season.
The result was a 37-20 Pitt lead, the Tigers' biggest halftime deficit this season.
"The defense isn’t as bad as it looks," Brownell said. "It is just that they are so good at passing the ball. It is demoralizing to play defense for 30 seconds and then give up a lay-up. That happened several times but we just didn’t respond tonight. It was really our first time in a very difficult environment and I think our guys played like a young team that looked a little nervous."
It didn't get any better. Patterson opened the second half with a 3-point heave that splashed through the net as the shot clock expired to give Pitt a 20-point lead.
Brownell became so frustrated he briefly benched four starters and threw junior walk-on guard Carson Fields onto the court. Fields had played in just six games all season, all 11 of his minutes coming in garbage time. His early entrance with 12:28 to play signaled the end of the competitive portion of things.
Just not the end of the Tigers' tough night. Clemson guard Austin Ajukwa received a technical foul with 8 minutes left for hanging on the rim after a breakaway dunk that made it 61-33.
Brownell screamed "We're down by 40" at Ajukwa as the Panthers went to the free throw line. James Robinson made the ensuing free throws to push the lead back to 30 as the "We Want Duke" chants started. The Panthers host the 18th-ranked Blue Devils next Monday.
"I thought they played very well," said Brownell. "I am certainly disappointed with our effort tonight. We didn’t play to a very good standard."
The Tigers stay on the road for their next two games. Clemson plays in Chapel Hill against North Carolina on Sunday at 6 p.m. in a game televised by ESPNU.