Hoosiers Dominate Panthers in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon hasn’t headed a dominant squad since the 2010-11 season, when his Brad Wanamaker-and-Ashton Gibbs-led Panthers earned their second no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in three years.
Since, Pitt has backtracked into the “good but not great” classification. All the while, Dixon has actually enjoyed a luxury that not many coaches around the college spectrum can say they’ve had.
That is: the 12-year head coach has been able to find stability in his starting lineup.
Until this season.
With the return of Pitt’s undisputed senior leader Cameron Wright on the immediate horizon, the Panthers were blown out of Indiana’s Assembly Hall Tuesday night by a score of 81-69 before a deafening crowd of 17,472, and the game got so out of hand that Dixon had to alter his starting lineup at halftime.
Jamel Artis has not followed the growth curve that many Panthers fans had hoped entering the season – both offensively and defensively. Artis, the sophomore from Baltimore, lost significant weight during the offseason in an effort to transition from the power forward to small forward. He has started at the three for Pitt in every game this season, but Dixon went to sophomore Josh Newkirk over Artis to start out the second half Tuesday.
In 24 minutes of play, Newkirk finished the game with 16 points, including an electrifying tomahawk slam dunk around 6-foot-9 Indiana forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and a pair of 3-pointers.
“He was playing the best of the guys we had and he made some shots. That was the thinking at that point,” Dixon said of starting Newkirk in the second half. “He was the guy that was being the most aggressive against the zone… And that was the thinking as well.”
The Hoosiers, who sat in a 2-3 zone for the majority of the contest, were outrebounded by the Panthers 44 to 36. It’s baffling that, of those 44 rebounds, Pitt collected 25 rebounds on the offensive end and scored just 28 points in the paint.
“We were doing a lot of missing and we were missing a lot of lay ups. I missed a few easy ones,” Pitt forward Michael Young, who registered 13 points and five rebounds, said after the game.
Young added, “We would get it, miss, get it back, miss, and then we’re all in the paint trying to get offensive rebounds, and then the moment they get the ball, they have three or four guys out on the break, and it was just three on one or three on two. If we make those lay-ups, maybe we’re able to get back but I don’t think having 25 offensive rebounds correlated to our success in the game.”
Senior center Derrick Randall played a large part in the Panthers success on the boards. Randall pulled down 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play.
Last week in Maui, Dixon gave the nod to Randall to start at center against San Diego State, while junior Joseph Uchebo had started Pitt’s first three games in the middle.
Uchebo played for just two minutes Tuesday, and Dixon explained why in his postgame comments.
“Joe seems to be struggling getting up and down the floor with his knee, and Derrick seems to be rebounding at a higher rate. We like playing Mike at the five as well.”
The aggravated Dixon shook his head as he pointed to his team’s problems. His team has lots of work to do on defense and around the rim.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” he said.
Indeed, Dixon will have to do some soul searching. Another roster shake-up is expected when Wright, who broke his foot in August, becomes cleared for contact in the coming days.
Pitt returns to action Friday at 7 p.m. against crosstown rival Duquesne at Consol Energy Center.