Panthers benefit from senior big man Taylor's strong play

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The players on Pitt's bench were up and celebrating as if Dante Taylor had just scored go-ahead baskets in the waning moments of a big game. In reality, they were boisterously congratulating their teammate after some meaningless buckets at the tail end of a 42-point blowout against the North Florida Ospreys.

Taylor, a former McDonald's All-American who has settled into the role of a reserve in his senior season, might not be a fan favorite, but the adulation his teammates showed for him proved once again that he remains a respected and well-liked teammate.

"Even when I wasn't playing well those guys were in my corner," Taylor said after Pitt's 89-47 victory Saturday night against North Florida at Petersen Events Center. "To see that is great. It was a confidence-builder."

Taylor scored a team-high 16 points, one shy of his career high. He had scored more than four points only once in the first nine games of the season and entered the game last on the team in scoring with 3.8 points per game.

On Saturday, Taylor was 7 for 9 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line. Sure, 10 of those came in the final 4:08 after the game was decided, but that didn't matter to Taylor, who has been searching for ways to contribute behind Big East Conference preseason rookie of the year Steven Adams.

"It felt great," Taylor said. "The last couple of games I haven't been able to do a lot of offense. I've been working hard in practice, to have this to show for it is great."

After practice Friday, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon pulled aside his two seniors -- Taylor and guard Tray Woodall -- and told them how well they were leading on and off the court. He liked how they were approaching practices and helping to prepare their younger teammates for the road ahead.

"Everyone will talk about him now because he scored some points, but he's been doing great things for us during his career," Dixon said. "I can't say enough about him as a teammate and a defender and as a screener and as a guy who really tries to do the right things in every way -- on the floor, off the floor, in the classroom. He does all the right things. I know people want him to score more. And at times we do, too. But you know what ... he's a great kid and a great teammate and very important part of what we've done here."

Part of Taylor's strong leadership has been shown in his acceptance of playing in a reserve role behind a freshman. Taylor once was the highly touted newcomer with great expectations. His career did not turn out as many had imagined, but his role as a senior could be important.

Adams has struggled to stay out of foul trouble and his scoring has been inconsistent. If Taylor can provide a boost off the bench when Adams is not having one of his better games, the Panthers will be well-positioned.

The center position has been Dixon's weakest position from an offensive standpoint. Adams and Taylor combine to average only 11.2 points per game. Both have been in position to make more of an offensive contribution, but they have not finished around the basket in the manner Dixon would like.

"It's definitely something we work on every day," Taylor said. "We have finishing drills, getting hit with the pad, things like that. A lot of times we rush our shots. We don't take our time. We don't see where we are on the floor. That has a lot to do with it. Coach emphasizes that every day. We're all getting better at it. We have to keep on getting better."

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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