In a way it shouldn’t be a surprise that the final score of the Pitt-Providence game was so close. In the prior four games Pitt lost once when ranked #1 to the Friars and in two others needed a just past half-court 3 to win and blew another lead before Woodall hit a go-ahead 3 with under 45 seconds left in a game. So, when you look at the recent games between Pitt and Providence, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the game finished with more drama than we wanted.
Then there’s the nature of this team. They just aren’t putting teams away at this point. On the bright side, it is better than the way Big East play started. When they didn’t just fail to put teams away but blew the lead and couldn’t get it back. Cinci, Marquette, Michigan. There’s improvement but isn’t always easy to watch. Coach Jamie Dixon will just take the win and accept the nature of this team (for now).
“Teams are going to make runs,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We‘re on the road. We didn‘t give up the lead. We kept the lead, and we made free throws. If you watch games in our conference, there‘s always going to be runs, always going to be teams make it a challenge.”
It was the third consecutive conference win for the Panthers (16-4, 4-3), who had lost close games to Cincinnati, Rutgers and Marquette, and one where they relied more on 51 percent shooting (26 of 51) than their trademarks of defense and rebounding, as both teams had 30.
“We had a nice lead, played well early,” Dixon said. “I thought our offense really carried us the whole game. We don‘t want to rely on our offense to win games for us, on the road especially, but that‘s what it was. They made shots, and they rebounded evenly with us.”
Okay, on to the thoughts from the game.
Those first 3 minutes were a microcosm of the promise and pain of Steven Adams. A couple baskets close to the hoop. A monster block. Even managing to hit a free throw on the “and one.” Active inside at both ends. Then two quick fouls — the second being especially stupid — that forced him to the bench the rest of the half. Adams played 15 minutes in the second half without committing a foul. Unfortunately that was because he took what happened in the first few minutes and played timid the rest of his time. Afraid to pick up another foul. He scored 8 points, but only gathered 3 rebounds.
With Adams out, that meant a lot would be needed from Talib Zanna. But since his big game against Georgetown, he hasn’t hit much of anything. 3-9 from the field which has him shooting 7-25 in the last four games. Early in the season it looked like Zanna was going to lock down another Most Improved Player in the Big East award for Pitt. But he has been in a major slump the past two weeks. Shooting from the field, free throw shooting, even his rebounding. All… off.
The only player in the backcourt who had a solid night was J.J. Moore. He was scuffling through most of Big East play. Falling back into old habits of taking more jump shots and not attacking the baskets. His shooting percentage and minutes were falling. In this game, where Dante Taylor wasn’t as effective and Adams in foul trouble, Moore got some more minutes and did a much better job of finishing at the rim. He still had that moment where he got the ball on the perimeter, and before the ball even reached him, you could see that he had made up his mind to take the 3-point shot. But overall, he was much more active inside.
So that kind of negated an area where Pitt should have had the advantage on the Friars — size in the backcourt. Naturally it was Pitt’s frontcourt and overall depth that did the job. Providence was effectively a 3-man team. Batts inside and then Cotton and Council in the backcourt. Only two other Providence players scored (accounting for 12 of their 64 points). Pitt had all 9 players scoring. They spread it out. Woodall, Patterson, Robinson, Ziegler and Johnson playing in the backcourt.
Only one Pitt player — Lamar Patterson scored in double-digits. Patterson has responded nicely after his miserable game against Villanova. Coach Dixon makes no bones about part of what is spurring Patterson to turn it up.
[Durand] Johnson didn’t have much playing time to get any other shots because Lamar Patterson played so well in front of him. Patterson led the Panthers with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. He was 7 for 10 from the field and scored 11 of his points in the first half when the Panthers raced to a 34-27 halftime lead.
“Durand is making Lamar play better,” Dixon said. “Those two going at it, and the way Durand has played in practice is making Lamar better.”
But. But. But. The narrative is that Jamie Dixon plays favorites. Especially with the upperclassmen. He doesn’t play the younger guys only because he likes his veterans more. Not because they are playing well. That’s why redshirt sophomore Cam Wright is seeing… Oh, wait. Wright didn’t play at all in the Providence game and only five minutes in the prior two games with Durand Johnson and Trey Zeigler earning more minutes. Well, we’ll just tuck this chestnut away for another time to make the claim.
So, Johnson didn’t see as much action last night since Patterson was playing so well. Zeigler got 20 minutes off the bench. He wasn’t as sparkling as against Villanova but he was effective. He looks so much more comfortable out there. He knows that the team wants him to drive to the basket. That he is allowed to probe on the perimeter with the ball to see if there is a lane, not just take a jumper or immediately pass.
Tray Woodall and James Robinson were excellent last night. Robinson may not appear to be so in the numbers, but he was grinding.
“What he does never shows up in that sheet,” Woodall said. “But as you could see, he was in there poised and knocked down the two free throws we needed. That’s the guy we’re used to. He’s not a guy who’s going to have big numbers, but he’s going to go out there and have a big heart. He stepped up and knocked them down.”
Those were the only two free throws of the game for Robinson, who otherwise struggled with one field goal, no assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes.
Robinson has been struggling to finish his shots. He has found some range once more on 3s, but conversely he has been leaving the ball on the rim when driving to the basket.
Woodall killed Providence by pulling up and draining some mid-range jumpers. Unprepared and no answer to stop it. Even with Pitt not able to rely on the frontcourt, Pitt only attempted 7 3-pointers. The emphasis was to go inside on Providence. Which makes sense with the Friars’ defense. They are not strong defensively on the drive.
I will say, if Providence can get better on defense, they will be a potential sleeper team next year. Cotton and Batts will be seniors. Dunn (assuming he doesn’t go pro) will have a chance to be fully healthy and take over for Council. They have some nice pieces in place and I think Ed Cooley is a pretty good coach.