Got my wish about a challenge from Duquesne yesterday. They played exceptionally well against Pitt. Better than the final score would indicate.
Pitt came out and blitzed the Stage Magicians in the first few minutes, and it looked like another blowout in the making. Instead Duquesne came back on Pitt, while Pitt found out early how bad they were going to be in their outside shooting.
Ultimately, Pitt was just better and deeper. Pitt may have had a miserable outside shooting game, while Duquesne was at one point an ungodly 7-9 on 3s. Pitt, however, is able to score from more than outside the arc. Duquesne was only 11-32 anywhere from inside the 3-point line, and their frontcourt couldn’t hit a free throw to save their life (Soko, McCoy and Lewis were a dismal 12-27 on FTs).
Pitt got a needed wake-up game after being so sharp and destroying Stanford and Texas Tech. They didn’t have their outside shooting to make it easy against an overmatched team. They had to work on getting it inside. Whether by passing or penetrating. They had to play defense as Duquesne was working it inside well — just couldn’t finish or hit FTs.
“This is the kind of game we expected,” Dixon said. “We knew it would be hard fought, emotional, two teams getting after it. We got off to a pretty good lead to start the game, which is something we have done, but then they made their run and we didn’t handle it as well.
“But we got back to doing what we do, we outrebounded them by a good margin, took care of the ball, but they made some shots. We wanted to drive the ball, we wanted to get in the lane, we didn’t shoot it great from 3, but we got penetration and got in the lane.”
Pitt led by only four points, 39-35, at halftime and trailed in the second half for the first time this season at 44-41 before making a 15-1 run over a five-minute span that enabled the Panthers to seize control.
Guarantee that Jamie Dixon was quietly quite happy that Pitt got pushed. It gives him every reason to get on the team. Especially in defending penetration.
Cam Wright led Pitt in this game. Continuing a complete reinventing of himself and befuddling many Pitt fans who thought (hoped) he would transfer after last year. His line for the game: 20 points (9-17), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 3 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Wright never had scored more than 13 points, but he has become more aggressive.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a different player,” said Wright, who mostly credited his teammates. “I think they’re looking for me to shoot sometimes, so when you’re wide open, you’ve got to shoot.”
Key was his layup and free throw with 14:13 left, which stretched a four-point gap into a 51-44 lead. The 6-foot-4 guard made 9 of 17 shots with two 3-pointers.
“He has much more of an aggressive offensive mindset,” said Duquesne sophomore Jeremiah Jones, who also faced Wright in the summer. “He was making some shots today. His mid-range shot has improved. He was attacking the basket well. He played a good game.”
Wright was always a higher ceiling player than we care to remember. He was a high 3-star recruit who initially committed to Ohio State. Even after redshirting, he was good enough to be given a chance at trying out for the USA U19 squad. It has just taken time for it all to come together. Imagine that? A player developing over time rather than being a star or bust right away.
Lamar Patterson was his efficient self. Talib Zanna is never going to be a defensive force, but he was solid on offense once more.
James Robinson continues to struggle with his shot. I know Robinson is a hell of a passing point guard, but he has to be better shooting. Even if he hits some key shots late, if he makes some of the easier and open ones earlier it’s a moot point. Last year as Big East play went on we saw teams playing further and further off of Robinson because he was a threat to pass not shoot. They were staying inside to guard the bigs or clog the lanes to further stagnate the offense by forcing Pitt to keep the ball along the perimeter.
So far, his shooting percentages are not very different. He is getting to the free throw line more, but he’s finishing less. I think he can be an amazing point guard (he’s already a very good one), but he has to be better at finishing. Not simply jumpers. He can get to the basket. Even Coach Dixon acknowledged before the season started that Robinson needs to be a better shooter for this team.
The ACC-Big 10 Challenge happens Tuesday night.