January 05, 2016

After briefly stepping away from the ACC schedule, Pittsburgh is ready to shift its focus back to the league full-time.

Ranked for the first time in nearly two years, the No. 24 Panthers can record a ninth straight victory by extending Georgia Tech's conference road struggles Wednesday night.

Pittsburgh (12-1, 1-0) opened ACC play with a 72-61 win over Syracuse last Wednesday, then shot 55.2 percent in Saturday's 92-58 rout of Maryland Eastern Shore in its final nonconference matchup.

"We are starting conference play now. (That was) our bye week, and we put a nonconference game in," coach Jamie Dixon said. "It was a little unique, but I thought we handled it well."

Back in the Top 25 for the first time since it was 25th the week of Feb. 10, 2014, Pitt is riding its longest winning streak since starting 10-0 in 2013-14. The Panthers' only loss came to then-No. 11 Purdue on Dec. 1.

"The number one thing we wanted to do was come here and win games and that's what we're doing," senior guard Sterling Smith said. "We want to keep that going into ACC play."

Pitt went 11-7 during its first ACC season in 2013-14 but was 8-10 last year. The Panthers were picked to finish 10th this season but currently share the ACC's best overall record with Miami.

They're third in the league in scoring at 85.0 points per game and rank second in opponents' field-goal percentage (38.0).

"The team's been preparing all nonconference for this," reserve forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa said. "We want to win an ACC championship so we've been gearing up."

The Panthers shot 40.7 percent against Syracuse but held a 43-25 advantage on the glass, grabbing a season-high 19 offensive rebounds and outscoring the Orange 22-2 in second-chance points. Pitt averages 42.7 boards and has a plus-12.1 rebounding margin, both second-best in the ACC.

"Our rebounding numbers have been pretty impressive, and it's been consistent," Dixon said. "The encouraging thing is that we are doing things well that are hard to do. We're guarding ball screens. Our post defense has been good."

Michael Young is averaging team highs of 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds for Pitt, which won both previous ACC meetings with Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1). Young and Jamel Artis (15.6 ppg) combined for 36 points in a 70-65 home win over the Yellow Jackets in the only matchup last season.

Georgia Tech lost 86-78 at then-No. 7 North Carolina on Saturday after leading with less than six minutes remaining. Coach Brian Gregory's team has led or been tied in the second half of each of its four losses, including a 69-52 defeat to then-No. 8 Villanova on Nov. 27.

"We're past the point of, 'Alright we competed with a really good team,' and we've got to figure out ways to break through and win the game," Gregory said. "You can believe in it, you can have faith in it and all those things, but you go out there and fight for it and take it, and that's the point we're at right now."

The Yellow Jackets have dropped five straight ACC road games and nine of 10.

Marcus Georges-Hunt can't be blamed with an average of 16.5 points in those 10 games. He's leading the team with 15.3 per game this season, scoring 45 in the last two following a three-game slump in which he averaged 10.7 points on 8-of-23 shooting.

Georges-Hunt scored 13 in each of the two losses to Pitt and shot a combined 31.6 percent.

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