No. 24 Pittsburgh holds off Georgia Tech 89-84
PITTSBURGH (AP) There is nothing flashy about James Robinson.
Not his build. Not his shot. Not his numbers. Yet the Pittsburgh senior guard has spent the last four years steadily improving, to the point where he can be whatever coach Jamie Dixon needs from him on a possession.
Against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, that turned out to be a little bit of everything.
Robinson scored 18 points - including seven straight at one point during a first-half run - to go with eight assists as the 24th-ranked Panthers held off Georgia Tech 89-84 for their ninth straight win.
''He's one of the most underrated players in the country,'' Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said. ''He just knows how to play ... he looks like he's been here for about 14 years but he makes the right play all the time.''
Dixon brought Robinson in to run the offense but he's become an increasingly effective scorer during his career thanks in part to the development of Jamel Artis, who sometimes works as a point forward, allowing Robinson to work without the ball in his hand.
''He's playing lower, playing a little stronger,'' Dixon said. ''His conditioning is better. Just being a senior. He's gotten better each year.''
This version appears to be the best yet and so does this version of the Panthers (13-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference). Artis finished with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds. Michael Young scored 17 points despite being limited to 17 minutes with foul trouble.
Adam Smith led Georgia Tech (10-5, 0-2) with a career-high 30 points, including eight 3-pointers and Charles Mitchell had 20 points and 17 boards as the Yellow Jackets hung around into the final seconds.
Pitt appeared to be firmly in control when an Artis putback pushed the Panthers in front 73-58 with 6:34 to play. Smith, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, basically kept the Yellow Jackets in it by dropping in a series of jumpers, including one at least 5-feet behind the 3-point line.
Georgia Tech drew within 83-77 with 1:20 to play and forced Pitt into only its fourth turnover but Smith's ensuing 3-point attempt was well off. When Sheldon Smith tipped in an Artis miss with 30 seconds left, Pitt was out of harm's way.
The Panthers have reinvented themselves in their third year in the ACC, entering the poll for the first time since February, 2014 thanks to their hot start. Dixon has ditched the staid and static style that marked their successful run in the Big East and opted for a more fluid, up-tempo approach. Pitt came in averaging 85 points - its best mark through 13 games in Dixon's 13-year tenure - thanks largely to the improved all-around play of Artis and a more aggressive approach by Robinson.
The Yellow Jackets are still searching for anything resembling consistent traction under Gregory, who hasn't come close to .500 in conference play in his first four years on the job. Georgia Tech played well at times in a loss at North Carolina last Saturday. Four days later they fell short once again when they couldn't keep pace with the Panthers.
''The way we're defending and the way they were on offense, you got to a point gosh, we had to almost score on every play,'' Gregory said.
ON THE LINE
Pitt entered the game leading the nation in free-throw shooting, making 78 percent on the season. The Panthers were even better Wednesday, making 25 of 30 (83 percent) at the line, including 22 of 24 in the second half to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay.
''Whoever steps to the line, we have complete confidence he's going to make it,'' said Robinson, who made 7 of 8.
CROSSING THE `T'
Dixon earned a rare technical foul in the first half after asking for a traveling violation following a drive to the basket by Marcus Georges-Hunt. Dixon yelled ''make the right call'' to officials after being asked to stay within the coaching box. Dixon laughed off the tech, saying simply ''I'd sure like to get my money's worth out of it one time.''
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have lost seven straight games against ACC opponents. ... Georgia Tech opens ACC play 0-2 for the fourth straight season. ... The Yellow Jackets outrebounded Pitt 38-34.
Pittsburgh: Senior center Rafael Maia finished with seven points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes. ''I'm amazed I played him 32 minutes,'' Dixon said. ''But he was the one coming up with all the rebounds.''
Georgia Tech: hosts No. 6 Virginia on Saturday.
Pittsburgh: at Notre Dame on Saturday.