Artis shines, defense stalls in Pitt’s win over Bryant
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
Knee-deep in an uncharacteristic season, the Pitt Panthers have been faced with zone defenses of all kinds, ones that stretch the length of the court and others that never leave the 3-point perimeter.
They faced Bryant in a midseason non-conference game Monday at the Petersen Events Center, and, a game that was supposed to be a lopsided blowout turned into a nail-biter for some 7,749 fans in attendance, many of whom stayed put all the way until the final buzzer. Pitt was down three points to the Bulldogs with four minutes remaining but the Panthers used a balanced offensive attack as the clock neared zero to claim the game 72-67.
Bryant (10-11, 7-3 NEC) threw a 2-3 zone at the Panthers (15-8, 4-5 ACC) for the majority of the game, and Jamel Artis proved to be matchup havoc. Artis scored 32 points and pulled down 6 rebounds.
Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone defense awaits Pitt, which hosts Syracuse Saturday afternoon. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that Artis is coming around offensively at the right time, and that Artis is playing especially well against the zone defense.
“I guess with 32 [points], it’s a pretty good sign, but it’s [against] the zone, too,” Dixon said of Artis. “I think he finds the spot against the zone. We put him in the right spots. We’re looking for him, and he’s shooting the ball really well. He can make mid-range jump shots. He hit some threes today, he makes free-throws at a high rate, and that’s a good thing for a guy with his size.”
Artis has blossomed into the Panthers’ most dependable scorer in ACC play. The 6-7, 200-pound sophomore is averaging 18.4 points in his past seven contests. His 32 points Monday were the most by a Pitt player in a single game since Sam Young registered 34 points in a 2009 game.
Josh Newkirk started Monday over everyday starter Chris Jones, who Dixon said had been suffering a back injury in recent days that has affected his play. It was the second consecutive game that Newkirk started, and the sophomore guard from Raleigh, N.c., scored 11 points and attempted nine 3-pointers, making three of them.
Cameron Wright contributed 11 points and Michael Young gave the Panthers 10 points and 11 rebounds. Newkirk said that the scoring started with Artis, who was perched inside the middle of Bryant’s 2-3 zone for the majority of the evening.
“When Mel got the ball in the middle, the weak side wings, we dropped, and we just got open shots and we were just in the flow of our offense,” Newkirk said.
On the opposite end of the floor, however, the Panthers are posting extraordinarily low numbers. They allowed the Bryant to make 51 percent of its shots Monday, and, over Pitt’s last eight games, the Panthers have allowed every one of their opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the floor.
What’s more is that Bryant, which is in its third year of Division I eligibility, came into the contest tied for 288th in team shooting percentage (40.8 percent).
Syracuse will travel to the Petersen Events Center Saturday carrying a 31.6 percent 3-point shooting percentage (263rd in Division I) and a 48.2 percent 2-point shooting percentage (156th in Division I).
“We have three days to improve and to figure out what we need to do defensively,” Dixon said.
Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. and all fans are encouraged to wear black, as Pitt is holding its first-ever “blackout.”