RICK FREEMAN,AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Pittsburgh had a top-five team reeling midway through the second half. The Panthers just couldn’t put away the No. 4 team in the country.
Lamar Patterson led the Panthers with 14 points, but the Panthers’ were stifled by Michigan’s defensive switch that also limited Pitt’s rebounding, and lost 67-62 in a semifinal of the NIT Season Tipoff on Wednesday night.
“I think they’re finding themselves. They’re improving,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said.
Trey Burke scored 17 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. had 16 points and No. 4 Michigan reached the title game. Pittsburgh will play Delaware in the consolation game Friday afternoon.
Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall made a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to make it a one-possession game, and Pittsburgh (4-1) pressed after a timeout. But Michigan (4-0) made eight straight free throws to close it out.
“We put them on the line, they knocked down the free throws down the stretch,” James Robinson said.
Robinson made a layup and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left, but missed the free throw and Michigan had the arrow for a jump ball that followed on the rebound. Pittsburgh fouled on the inbounds and Burke made the free throws.
The Wolverines will play Kansas State for the title on Friday afternoon. The Wildcats beat the Blue Hens earlier Wednesday.
It was a disappointing finish for a well-balanced Pittsburgh team that was expected to have an outside shot at contending in the strong and deep Big East conference — and looked set to score a big nonconference win early.
The Panthers led by eight in the first half and six in the second, but Michigan began to use its 1-3-1 defense to slow them down and limit their field goals until they got down to making free throws late. The zone also may have upset Pitt’s rebounding efforts. Michigan had 37 rebounds to Pitt’s 26.
“The thing that sticks out, I think, is the rebounding,” Dixon said. “They outrebounded us. That’s something that doesn’t happen, but it did.”
Before closing with a bunch of layups that Michigan seemed willing to concede due to the game situation, the Panthers shot 5 of 20 from the floor, mostly against the zone.
Hardaway tied it for Michigan at 44 on a layup with a little more than nine minutes remaining, and from there slowly pulled away. Michigan made 18 of 22 free throws to Pittsburgh’s 6-for-11 effort from the line.
A key part of Michigan’s offense is 3-point shooting, and the Wolverines struggled from beyond the arc for most of the game. At one point, they’d made one of 10. Before Glenn Robinson III made one with about 11 minutes to go that cut Pittsburgh’s lead to two points.
Michigan responded after a slow start in its first test after demolishing subpar competition in its first three games — which it won by an average of 35 points — and the Wolverines struggled early.
“This is big-man basketball right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We haven’t had that type of good defense on us yet.”
Pitt led 33-29 at halftime thanks to some poor 3-point shooting by Michigan, whose only make was by Nik Stauskas in a 1-for-7 half. The Panthers made 5 of 12 from behind the arc and their size gave the Wolverines more trouble than they had been used to. Stauskas finished with 15 points.
In their first four games, the Panthers overcame a brief scare in an overtime win against mid-major Oakland, along with three other easy wins.
“I definitely feel we need to play a lot harder, play tougher,” James Robinson said. “We got outrebounded, we got beat in transition tonight.”
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