Pitt basketball proves it has enough game to win on the road
January 12, 2016 12:00 AM
Robert Franklin/Associated Press
Pitt forward Michael Young celebrates a basket in the Panthers' road win Saturday at Notre Dame.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt beat Notre Dame Saturday in its first road game this season to improve to 3-0 in the ACC. All of a sudden, the Panthers appear to be one of the teams to beat in the conference.
The Panthers (13-1, 3-0), who moved up Monday to No. 20 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 17 in the coaches’ poll, can solidify their status as a contender Thursday when they visit Louisville (13-3, 2-1), although some of the shine is off the Cardinals a bit after they lost Sunday to Clemson.
Notre Dame has been wildly inconsistent and not as good as some predicted. But any road win is tough, especially in the ACC.
Just ask Virginia, which lost last week at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, which also lost at North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ two losses were at Texas and at Northern Iowa.
Despite the setbacks, the ACC has three teams — No. 5 North Carolina, No. 8 Miami and No. 9 Duke — in the top 10 and one more (No. 13 Virginia) in the top 15.
With games left against all four, the Panthers will have plenty of opportunities to prove whether they are one of the best teams in the conference and, by extension, the country.
Pitt’s 86-82 win at Notre Dame established that the Panthers are good enough to make shots and keep their poise down the stretch in hostile environments. Pitt’s Michael Young said the key in any road game is to build an early lead and temper some of the crowd’s enthusiasm.
“When you are away, you don’t have your fans behind you and all that,” said Young. “You definitely want to come out and get ahead first.”
The Panthers jumped to an early 18-point lead Saturday, and while the Irish made some runs at them, they never tied the score or took the lead.
Young said that’s a formula the Panthers hope to use on the road this week at Louisville and in their seven other remaining road games.
“When you get ahead first, when you get out to a lead like we did [against Notre Dame], you can settle in and play basketball and just play the rest of the game with confidence,” Young said.
Pitt was picked to finish 10th in the ACC preseason media poll, while the Irish were picked to finish No. 4.
Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said his team doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but the upcoming schedule is friendly because, after visiting Louisville, the Panthers will have home games against struggling Boston College and North Carolina State.
He said this group has been fun to coach because they have a desire to get better. He said there are many ways to show that, but one stands out — they are good students as well as good athletes.
“We had a 3.2 GPA as a team. That’s what I like most about this team,” Dixon said. “I got a letter from a lady who brought kids from the Special Olympics, and they went with our players and spent the entire time after a game with them and I didn’t even know they were there.
“And the passing and [unselfishness] … I think they have confidence in one another. We’re still getting there defensively. We are working at it and getting better every day.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @post-gazette.com.
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