Reserves are a strength for Pitt basketball early in season


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It wasn't until six minutes remained in regulation Saturday night that Pitt had a starter reach double figures in scoring. And even after a five-minute overtime period that produced a 72-62 comeback victory against Oakland University, freshman point guard James Robinson was the only starter in double digits when the final buzzer sounded.

Pitt's starters haven't been clicking on all offensive cylinders through the first four games, but the Panthers remain undefeated in large part due to a strong group of reserves that has contributed greatly.

Pitt's reserves came through in a big way against Oakland. Backup power forward J.J. Moore scored a team-high 16 points. He played a key role in the comeback late in regulation and led the early surge in overtime that ultimately produced the victory.

Backup center Dante Taylor also figured prominently into the comeback. Taylor had 12 points and nine rebounds. Four of those points came in the final 37 seconds. He played 28 minutes because starting center Steven Adams was in foul trouble for most of the game.

Dixon likes his four-man rotation up front with Moore and Taylor spelling Talib Zanna and Adams.

"Our big guys can score," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "All four can score the way we're playing. We're playing to their strengths. We're running sets for them, putting them in the right position."

Dixon said this is probably the deepest bench, in terms of scoring, that he has coached in his decade at Pitt. What might make or break the season is the development of wings Durand Johnson, Trey Zeigler and Cameron Wright.

Dixon is high on all three, but they are all still trying to find their niche in the rotation.

"Those guys will be key for us," he said. "They're right there. They can do some things. It just seems like they need minutes, some confidence. They've had some good minutes, some good production at times. Putting it together and being consistent will be the test here as they go forward. 'Zeig' is getting more and more comfortable, in better shape. Durand is getting a better understanding of what we're looking for. We're excited about those guys."

The production off the bench is a far cry from what Dixon had to work with last season. Pitt's reserves are outscoring opponents' reserves, 174-44, in the first four games. The 174 points represent 45 percent of the team's points. The reserves last season were not nearly as productive or consistent in their roles.

One of Dixon's problems is finding enough time to go around and keep all of them happy.

"It's a nice problem to have and that's what good teams have," Dixon said. "I felt at times last year I didn't know who to put in. This time I have some options. It's a nice rotation if we can keep everyone on the floor and out of foul trouble."

Moore and Taylor are third- and fourth-year players who have bought into their roles. In Taylor's case, he has accepted a freshman starting in front of him.

Moore is the team's third-leading scorer and is fourth on the team in minutes played. Some players in their position might crave starting roles, but they are making the most of their time and appear committed to doing whatever they can to help the team win games.

"We have our different roles," Moore said. "We want to execute and play good. People like myself and Dante Taylor we try to provide some spark to the team and just try to be more assertive and play our roles. I definitely feel like it's a big help for my team seeing me come off the bench. I try to give spark to the starting five."

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published November 20, 2012 5:00 AM


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