Pitt played its first exhibition game of the season last Friday against UC San Diego, and while the Panthers won by 13 points, the Tritons trailed by just two points with four minutes to play.
Coach Jamie Dixon said that there were some things the Panthers would have done differently in terms of a game plan if it had been a regular-season game, but he also said the players needed to play better than they did.
That’s why tonight, when the Panthers play their second exhibition game against Slippery Rock at Petersen Events Center, he expects them to put forth a much better performance, especially the three returning starters — James Robinson, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna — and starting shooting guard Cameron Wright.
“I didn’t think any of those four played their best games and all know they need to play much better for us to be successful,” Dixon said. “Those are four good, smart, versatile players, and we expect a lot more out of them than what we got the other night, but they know it.
“I think the other thing is, they all four did a lot of good things, too. And we saw some things in that first game from UC San Diego that we really didn’t work on or prepare for because it was just an exhibition.”
Dixon said he is treating the game tonight against Slippery Rock as more of a regular-season game and has prepared for it, watched film and game-planned for the Rockets since the season begins next week.
One major change he is likely to make tonight is to the starting lineup.
Derrick Randall has returned from injury and will assume the role of Zanna’s backup at center, which means Michael Young will move back to his power forward spot and likely be the starter with Durand Johnson coming off the bench.
If those changes occur, the starting lineup will be Robinson, Wright, Patterson, Young and Zanna, which Dixon said is a better lineup than the one the Panthers started last week.
“With Derrick being out, we tried to play a smaller lineup and use Michael at the five spot,” Dixon said. “It was a lineup that we had used some in practice, and we saw it as an opportunity to play with it, but I haven’t felt it was our best lineup.
“It was good to get it out there and see what it looks like.”
The Panthers struggled against UC San Diego, but Dixon said it isn’t a bad thing because there were a lot of teaching moments, especially for the freshmen who played.
Young was the best of the freshmen, but Dixon said he saw some good things from Jamel Artis, who is battling Young for a starting spot, as well as guard Josh Newkirk.
He said Young clearly had a better game than Artis, but Artis has had better days than Young and that the competition should keep them hungry to improve. .
“Both have showed up at different times and played better,” Dixon said. “Mike brings a little more rebounding and may be a little more sound defensively, but both will give us something.
“You have to remember both are freshmen and haven’t played a game, and they are still learning who is going to be where and what they need to do in game situations.
“And, remember, we can play Lamar at the four spot as well, so we have options and we have the ability to mix some things up based on matchups.”
After tonight, the Panthers will have exactly a week to get ready for their season opener, next Friday at home against Savannah State.
Dixon said he hopes to see improvement tonight, especially on defense, because they have worked hard to emphasize some fundamentals and defensive principles this week. They will continue to do so leading up to the opener.
“I think we were a little over-aggressive at times against UC San Diego and we got out of position, and that led to some shots for them,” Dixon said.
“But we also missed some shots and need to do a better job of shot selection. I noticed one issue we had was we took too many off-balance, one-footed layups, and we addressed that.
“Honestly, even though we won, it was good to feel like we came up short because now we know that we have to do things on the court with a purpose at all times to be successful.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.