Offensive struggles haunting Pitt

PITT BASKETBALL


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Pitt has 20 wins for the 13th consecutive season and most likely will end up in the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in 11 years.

But there is a cause for concern with the Panthers recently because they have had a hard time scoring points.

Pitt's offense has been overly dependent on senior Lamar Patterson, but when he doesn't have a good game, the Panthers have struggled.

The offense has been an issue in the past three games. The Panthers (20-4, 7-3 ACC) have failed to score 50 points in regulation in any of them.

The good news is despite that, they have won two of those three games, but two wins have come against teams in the bottom-fifth of the ACC standings, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was asked after a 62-57 victory Saturday against Virginia Tech if he is concerned about the offense which clearly has not played its best basketball in recent weeks.

He said the idea that Pitt is not a good offensive team is not accurate because a team's offensive success is measured in more ways than just points.

"I'm always concerned about the offense, even when we are leading the league in field-goal percentage, leading the country in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio," Dixon said. "We're always working to improve, you can't be satisfied, you have to continue to adjust. I thought [Saturday against the Hokies] they played a zone, they sagged in the lane but we got good shots.

"We got into a good rhythm and got away from that. We can't let a few missed shots affect us and get stationary. We didn't do a good job of knocking down shots but we will be better than we played [Saturday]."

Offensive efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratios aside, the bottom line is the Panthers have not been putting the ball in the basket.

And that is a big reason why they lost a close game to Virginia, why they needed a missed free throw late by Miami and a four-point play by James Robinson late against Virginia Tech just to get to overtime.

Against Virginia, the Panthers scored only 45 points. Patterson was 3 of 14 from the field and finished with 10 points.

Patterson had a big game against Miami, a 59-55 win, scoring 25 points, but 10 of those points came in overtime. Patterson had 15 points in regulation and the Panthers had 46 before going to overtime.

Saturday against the Hokies, Patterson was limited by a thumb injury and Talib Zanna was limited by a nagging ankle injury. The top two scorers were hobbled and it showed as the Panthers scored only 48 points in regulation.

Patterson was held to a season-low five points by the Hokies (mostly because he couldn't handle the ball) and Zanna had only seven..

Dixon said that Pitt will have to do a better job of finding secondary scoring in games when Zanna and Patterson struggle.

"You are not going to have guys score their average every game, and when they don't you have to learn to play through it," Dixon said. "We have James [Robinson], Cameron [Wright], Josh [Newkirk] and we need other guys. We have some things where we are playing through injuries and fatigue, and we did at the end, but we have to do it a lot earlier than that.

"We didn't finish great inside ... and [Virginia Tech] had something to do with that. But we also have to get more offensive rebounds, especially against a zone. That is one of the things we need to do to be more successful."

One thing that may be contributing to the offensive struggles is the loss of Durand Johnson to an ACL tear, which happened Jan. 11 against Wake Forest.

Johnson was only averaging 8.8 points per game coming off the bench but he did represent a 3-point threat. When he was on the floor defenses had to rotate to him and that opened up things in the lane.

He also, like Patterson, is a guy who could score in bunches and he became known as an energy guy who provided instant offense off the bench.

Pitt has had some big offensive games since Johnson was hurt -- 81 points against Georgia Tech, 76 against Clemson, 83 against Maryland -- but not having that second long-distance threat on the floor has allowed teams to defend the Panthers differently.

Players were given a day off Sunday. They will begin preparing today for a showdown Wednesday against No. 1 Syracuse (23-0, 10-0) at Petersen Event Center.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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