Turnovers a problem for Pitt

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At halftime of Saturday's game against Kent State, Pitt had nine turnovers, which was more than the Panthers totaled in 10 games last season. Surely, Jamie Dixon mentioned to his team in the locker room that they had to cut down on the turnovers in the second half.

So what did the Panthers do in the opening moments after halftime? They turned the ball over three times in the first three minutes, three more mishaps in the Panthers' mistake-prone offense that produced a season-high 19 turnovers.

Turnovers have been a season-long problem for Pitt, which has 140 through 10 games. The Panthers rank 15th out of 16 teams in the Big East in turnover margin.

Luckily for Pitt, Kent State did not capitalize on the mistakes and the Panthers came away with a 71-59 victory. But the players know their carelessness with the basketball cannot continue if they are to have success when conference play begins in a couple of weeks.

"It's something we can't let keep happening," junior guard Brad Wanamaker said.

"Eventually we'll run into a good team when it will hurt us. That's something we're going to have to work on and improve in."

Wanamaker is averaging almost three turnovers per game and is one of three players with more than 25 turnovers. Wanamaker leads the team with 29. Point guard Travon Woodall has 27 and sophomore power forward Nasir Robinson has 25.

To put those numbers into perspective, it took Levance Fields 17 games last season to reach 30 turnovers.

Only one other team in the Big East has as many turnovers as Pitt. Syracuse has 141 in nine games, but Syracuse's opponents have turned the ball over 185 times while Pitt's opponents have turned it over 125 times.

Pitt does not play aggressively on defense to force turnovers, so protecting the ball when the Panthers have it is of utmost importance.

The Panthers have not done that consistently this season. The Kent State game marked the eighth time in 10 games that they have turned it over 13 or more times. Dixon's goal is to have 12 turnovers or fewer per game, which his team was able to accomplish 20 times in 36 games last season.

In the Kent State game, Robinson had four turnovers and junior center Gary McGhee had five. That's the biggest difference between this season and last, according to Dixon. Pitt's forwards and centers are contributing to the turnover problem more than those positions have in seasons past.

"Usually when you look at turnovers it's your perimeter guys," Dixon said. "We had nine from our power forward and center [Saturday]. We've had more from our big guys."

Dixon blamed that occurrence on inexperience. Robinson averaged only 6.4 minutes per game last season while McGhee averaged 6.7.

"I know everyone wants it today," Dixon said. "That's why coaches have to have more patience than other people. They're doing some really good things. Nasir is rebounding and scoring some points, more than we have out of that spot sometimes. But he's turning it over a bit, especially as of late. Gary has done that as well.

"Those numbers stick out and we have to work at it. That usually improves with time, with playing time. That's what will happen. I hate to state the obvious but sometimes it needs to be stated. They're getting better because they're playing more minutes now. They're in a position they haven't been in before."

The same can be said of the guards.

Woodall was redshirted last season after playing sparingly in the first 10 games. Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs played in 35 games, but he averaged only 10.7 minutes per game. Other than Jermaine Dixon, the only returning starter who played his first game last week, the player with the most experience on the team is Wanamaker, who averaged 19 minutes per game as a sophomore.

Pitt has a break in the schedule this week because of final exams and does not play until Saturday, against Mount Saint Mary's. Correcting the turnover problem is at the top of the to-do list for the Panthers.

"We're OK," Wanamaker said. "We can be better. There are some things we have to work on. Defense and turning the ball over are two things. Those are two areas that will help make us better."

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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