Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon noted his team's shortcomings in the moments after the Panthers lost Saturday, 60-59, to St. John's at Madison Square Garden in New York. He lamented the team's 16 turnovers, the number of free-throw attempts they allowed and their inability to beat the Red Storm on the backboards.
One thing he did not mention was some lackluster post defense, an ongoing problem in recent weeks that finally caught up to them.
Justin Burrell became the latest post player to have an easy time with the Panthers in the lane. A 6-foot-8 forward, Burrell continually caught the ball on the blocks and put himself in position to score in the Red Storm's victory. Burrell was 6 for 9 from the field and finished with 15 points. St. John's had 24 points in the lane.
Opposing centers and forwards have converted a high percentage of inside shots and have earned trips to the free-throw line recently.
• In a victory Wednesday against South Florida, Bulls centers Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous combined to shoot 7 for 13 from the field and scored 20 points.
• In a victory Feb. 12 against Villanova, Wildcats center Mouphtaou Yarou was 4 for 7 from the field and had 15 points.
• And in a victory Feb. 7 against West Virginia, Mountaineers center Deniz Kilicili was 9 for 13 from the field and scored 19 points.
Pitt centers Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor had such a tough time Saturday that Dixon switched to a zone defense for the final eight-plus minutes of the first half and again for a portion in the second half.
Dixon previously had pushed McGhee for Big East Conference defensive player of the year for his quality post defense, but opposing teams have not shied away from challenging the Panthers inside. That is especially the case when McGhee is on the bench.
Taylor, a backup, has had a difficult time defending in the post so much so that it is obvious opposing coaches are targeting him when he enters the game.
There is plenty of room for improvement in the post defense, especially considering the Panthers have to face West Virginia, Villanova and South Florida again before the regular season ends. Kilicili is the first to get another crack at McGhee and Taylor Thursday night when the Panthers play the Mountaineers at Petersen Events Center.
If there were a positive to come out of the St. John's game it's that junior guard Ashton Gibbs showed no ill-effects from his left MCL injury and appears ready for the stretch drive.
Gibbs scored a career-high 26 points and made six 3-pointers to pace the Panthers against the Red Storm. Gibbs had missed the previous three games while rehabilitating the injury.
"I wanted to make sure I was 100 percent when I came back," Gibbs said. "My knee is perfectly fine. I'm just playing my game now."
Gibbs was 6 for 9 from behind the arc to boost his season 3-point percentage to .473. One of the reasons Gibbs was able to hit his stride in his first game back was the fact that he was able to continue shooting during his rehabilitation. Gibbs could not put stress on the knee with side-to-side movements, but he was allowed to practice his shooting stroke.
Dixon played Gibbs 34 minutes off the bench, including 19 of a possible 20 minutes in the second half.
"He played well and I felt good about him in practice," Dixon said. "He really didn't do much until Thursday, but Friday I felt good about him. He was just moving quick and getting the shots and moving hard on the defensive end. I felt pretty good about him going into the game, but you really don't know how he'll be until you are in the game."
Gibbs accounted for six of Pitt's seven 3-pointers against St. John's. Despite playing just once in the past four games, Gibbs had more 3-pointers in that span that his teammates do combined. The rest of the Panthers have shot 5 for 33 from behind the arc.
Travon Woodall is 3 for 18 in the past four games, Gilbert Brown 1 for 9. Brad Wanamaker 1 for 3.
For the season, players other than Gibbs are shooting a combined 32.4 percent from 3-point range.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.