Having one freshman in his starting lineup is not out of the ordinary for Jamie Dixon, but starting two freshmen would be breaking new ground for Pitt's head coach.
Pitt played its first exhibition game Friday night -- exactly two weeks before the start of the regular season -- and Dixon had freshman point guard James Robinson and freshman center Steven Adams in his starting five in a 69-54 victory against Division II IUP.
Would it be the same way when Mount St. Mary's visits the Petersen Events Center for the Nov. 9 season opener? Dixon wasn't saying afterward, but he wasn't shy about divulging the criteria for earning a starting position. He said it was one thing and one thing only: defense.
"I thought it was always a possibility going into the year," Dixon said. "We're trying to get the best defenders out there. We think Tray and James are probably the best two. I think it'll be a good combination. James can obviously guard the bigger guy, so you don't lose anything with that. James is a good rebounder, too. Those are the good things that come with that. But we've got other guys, and the opportunity is there for them to step up. I anticipate a couple of them improving and making that step."
Adams starting was not a big surprise. He is the Big East preseason rookie of the year and came to Pitt as a top-10 national recruit. Robinson starting was a surprise if only because Dixon had the option of starting someone with two years' worth experience at the Division I level.
That is junior Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan's leading scorer the past two seasons who transferred to Pitt in the spring. Dixon reiterated Zeigler and others who are vying for roles have time to change his mind.
"We're not deciding anything after 11 practices," Dixon said.
Dixon just started to use Woodall and Robinson together in the same backcourt within the past week at practice. They are still working out the kinks of having two point guards on the floor at the same time, but Woodall believes it can be successful.
"We're interchangeable," Woodall said. "He's a smart kid. He's picking up on everything real well. It makes us that much stronger having two point guards out there."
Robinson, who played at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, felt comfortable as a starter.
"For me, it's a good comfort factor to know Tray is out there with me," he said. "He's a senior and has been through the battles. If I get a little lost in the play or something, I can look to him and he can tell me what to do. We play off each other a lot. That helps the game come to me a little easier."
Woodall led the Panthers with 16 points, and J.J. Moore, who is making the switch from small forward to power forward, added 14 off the bench.
It was not an impressive game for the freshmen statistically. Robinson had three points, two assists and no turnovers in 20 minutes. Adams had four points and four rebounds in 17 minutes.
Pitt got off to a slow start. The Panthers trailed in the early stages and led, 21-16, at halftime. They were 9 for 25 from the field in the first half and made four of those baskets in the final 3:25. Pitt surged ahead early in the second half. A 3-point play by Moore capped a 14-2 run and made it 42-27 with 11:48 remaining. Moore scored all his points in the second half.
Mathis Keita, a transfer from Gonzaga, led IUP with 17 points. IUP shot 51 percent (21 for 41) from the field, including 73 percent (14 for 19) in the second half.
"We've only had 11 practices, and it looked like it," Dixon said.
NOTES -- Sophomore center Malcolm Gilbert and freshman guard Chris Jones did not play. Both are candidates to redshirt. Jones has been sick and lost 15 pounds since practice began two weeks ago. ... Senior center Dante Taylor had nine points and 10 rebounds off the bench. ... Zeigler had five points, two assists and two turnovers in 14 minutes.pittsports