Pitt Looks to Rebound at Home
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
The Pitt Panthers are nearly two weeks removed from one of the most underwhelming 11-day spans in the Jamie Dixon era.
Pitt is also, however, in position to go unscathed through the rest of its nonconference schedule. The Panthers (5-3) return to action Saturday afternoon to play St. Bonaventure (6-1) in the first of a five-nonconference-game-stretch in which they won’t have to leave the Petersen Events Center.
With the span in sight and ACC play on the horizon, Dixon and his players feel their team is in a good position to proceed. They now have been given a reason – the return of guard Cameron Wright from offseason foot surgery – to shield the dark cloud that’s hung over the team for its first several weeks of the season.
“We can’t have any more excuses,” Dixon said Wednesday. “We can’t have any more reasons to come up short. We’ve got to figure it out.”
Wright played less than a minute in Pitt’s 76-62 win over Duquesne last week, but he said that the eight days of rest that the Panthers will have enjoyed by tipoff Saturday has helped him get his legs back and get used to full contact.
At the same rate that Wright returns to form, St. Bonaventure’s 6-foot-7 small forward Denzel Gregg, who is fresh from suspension, has also begun playing again.
Gregg’s size only adds to the Bonnies’ towering presence.
This season, Dixon and his squad have, for the most part, played small teams that have lacked the presence of a true center, but St. Bonaventure is one of the few mid-majors Pitt is slated to face that uses a bulky starting lineup. The Bonnies are anchored by 7-foot center Youssou Ndoye, who averages a double-double in points (11.2) and rebounds (11), and he averages 3.3 blocks.
Together, St. Bonaventure’s interior defense holds opponents 38.5 percent of attempted shots from inside the arc.
“They’re very good defensively, very sound,” Dixon said of the Bonnies. “They won a big game at Ohio U on the road [last week], and that has to be a big confidence builder for them. They’ve got good size and good athleticism.”
On the flip side, the Bonnies allow opponents to shoot 36 percent from 3-point range, making them statistically one of the worst perimeter defenses in college basketball.
Sophomore speedster Josh Newkirk and junior guard Chris Jones are leading Pitt in 3-point shooting (39 percent apiece), and point guard James Robinson buried three 3-pointers against Duquesne.
Wright has traditionally not been known as a threat from outside the arc, but 3-point shooting was a focus for the 6-foot-4 senior while he paraded the sidelines in a walking boot over the past four months, and his ability to do so in live action could positively affect Pitt’s fate in coming weeks.
“As far as shooting it,” Dixon said after Pitt’s team practice Wednesday. “Today was the first day [Wright] shot it well. I think that was a big step. As far as going with it, the speed in which he’s playing with, the energy, conditioning, those types of things, I felt good about that. Just getting in the rhythm, hitting some shots, getting out, I think we saw that today.”
Dixon added that he is unsure if Wright will crack the starting lineup anytime soon.
But Wright, who averaged 11 points, three rebounds and two steals per contest last season, is poised to contribute any way he can.
“As a team, we’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said.
Tipoff is at 2 p.m.