- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A January game for a Power 5 program against a non-conference opponent could easily be overlooked. After Pittsburgh opened ACC play with a 72-61 victory against Syracuse on Dec. 30, head coach Jamie Dixon made sure his team was still prepared for Maryland-Eastern Shore on Saturday.

“Everything’s an opportunity to get better. That was our emphasis this week. We’ve got to be a better team today after the game than we were Wednesday (Dec. 30),” Dixon said.

Pitt was sluggish early but dominated the second half to notch a 92-58 blowout win over Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Panthers led by six at halftime, but shot 73 percent in the second half and outscored the Hawks 53-25 to notch a blowout victory.

Jamel Artis and Michael Young scored 14 points apiece for Pitt (12-1, 1-0 ACC). Sheldon Jeter added 13 points off the bench and Sterling Smith had 12.

Bakari Copeland led all scorers with 23 points for Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-13, 0-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). Devin Martin finished with 13 and Dominique Elliot chipped in 12 points.

“You just have to go into every game thinking that can’t go down to anybody’s level even if the other team might not be as great,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s tough and we have some slippage but we need to try to eliminate that.”

The Hawks controlled the game early and took a 16-11 lead eight minutes in. Maryland-Eastern Shore shot 58 percent and limited the Panthers to a 29 percent clip in that span.

James Robinson’s layup at the nine-minute mark gave Pitt a 22-20 lead and the Panthers never trailed again. Pitt led 39-33 at halftime.

The Panthers emerged from the half to quickly open up a double-digit lead and led by as many as 34 points. Pitt made 7 of 10 field goals and held the Hawks to 31 percent shooting out of the break.

“Every team you play does something different well,” Dixon said. “We had to get used to traps and jumping the ball in the backcourt. I think as the game progressed we did a better job.”

Johnson thought the Hawks’ offensive struggles in the second half had more to do with what his team did rather than Pitt’s defensive effort.

“I feel like we got out of our game plan,” Copeland said. “I think we took ourselves out of the game, I don’t really think it was Pitt’s defense.”

Maryland-Eastern Shore dropped its third contest in a row after the Hawks fell to St. Joseph’s and Maryland-Baltimore County as they began Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play.

TIP-INS

Maryland-Eastern Shore: Junior forward Bakari Copeland finished with a career-high 23 points. He topped his previous high of 17 set in his last game against UMBC and has hit double-digit scoring in his last five games.

Pittsburgh: Pitt concluded its non-conference schedule with Saturday’s victory. The Panthers lone non-conference loss came to then-No. 11 Purdue Dec. 1 and are now 127-5 all-time against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center.

END OF THE ROAD

Maryland-Eastern Shore head coach Bobby Collins is rather happy to see only league opponents remaining on the schedule. The Hawks have played 13 of their 16 games this season on the road which included trips to No. 1 Michigan State and No. 6 Maryland.

“I’m glad that this brutal schedule is almost over,” Collins said. “Now we can get back focused on trying to get better as a team and prepare to win our tournament and our league.”

LOCKED DOWN

Bakari Copeland scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, but Pitt held him to seven points on 2-of-5 shooting in the second half. Copeland penetrated the interior of Pitt’s defense often in the first half and met little resistance for easy baskets.

Alonzo Nelson-Ododa was a part of Pitt’s efforts to wall off the interior and limit Copeland’s penetration in the second half.

“Going into the locker room we wanted to make that defensive adjustment,” Nelson-Ododa said. “I think he ended with 23, that’s not what we wanted but I think we did a good job of stopping him in the second half.”

UP NEXT

Maryland-Eastern Shore plays at Columbia on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh hosts Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

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