Whatever Jamie Dixon told his players in the locker room helped Pitt turn things around at halftime Saturday against Florida State.
Pittsburgh's Michael Young grabs a rebound over FSU's Montay Brandon during their game at the Tucker Civic Center on Saturday.
FSU's Terance Mann attempts a shot against Pitt defenders Ryan Luther, left, and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa during their game at the Tucker Civic Center on Saturday.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Pitt found itself trailing by 10 points at halftime Saturday against Florida State and had played a lackluster first half, especially on defense, and coach Jamie Dixon voiced his displeasure loudly in the locker room in order to try to inspire his team to come back and win the game.
“I really got into them and challenged them at the half,” Dixon said. “That’s probably the most vocal I have been in 13 years, but we really thought we had our guys ready to go defensively to do the things we want, but in the first half, we didn’t do it.
“I told them we were going to win the game and I believed that.”
Dixon’s Knute Rockne-like speech apparently worked as the Panthers came back and beat the Seminoles, 74-72, in an ACC game at Donald L. Tucker Center.
“Yeah, coach was very [ticked] at halftime,” said Jamel Artis, who had 16 points and hit a huge 3-pointer with 26 seconds left that gave the Panthers their first second-half lead. “He came in yelling at us, you know, but we knew what we had to do, we had to hit them first in the second half and I thought we did that very well.
“He isn’t always going to be happy with what we do, but he believes in us and he is always telling us we are going to get back in the game and we did.”
It was a big win for the Panthers (16-3, 5-2), not so much because the Seminoles (12-7, 2-5) are good but because they begin a brutal stretch of games that will likely go a long way to determining their NCAA tournament fate.
“I’m sure it was a heartbreaking loss for them because they played well but I thought we executed well down the stretch,” Dixon said. “We are a team in the making, we have won a lot of games but we needed to win a game like this.
“We have had some games where we got off to slow starts — all of our losses — and we have come back and battled back but we didn’t finish it in the end. So this was good to come back and finish it because we hadn’t had a lot of those.”
Although Dixon’s speech was the catalyst, the two more important developments in the second half that led the Panthers was their ability to stop the Seminoles transition game and their ability to get to the free-throw line.
Florida State had built a 43-33 lead the half and mostly because they enjoyed a 10-0 edge in fast-break points. The Seminoles looked to push the ball every time the Panthers turned it over or missed a shot.
And Pitt didn’t shoot well in the first half — the Panthers were 11 of 33 from the field (33 percent) — had seven turnovers and that gave the Seminoles opportunities to run.
The Panthers would have been down even further at the half had it not been for Sterling Smith, who scored 11 of his 16 points before halftime and hit three big 3s at critical times.
Smith wasn’t the only Panthers player who stepped up and made big plays. Ryan Luther came off the bench and played 15 minutes and had two points and four rebounds.
Luther, who saw extended playing time because Sheldon Jeter sat out of the game with a concussion, got some critical rebounds in the game and took a big charge, but he also made a key assist in the waning seconds that turned out to be the most important play of the game.
With the score tied, 67-67, Luther drove the lane and missed a layup, but he fought to grab the offensive rebound and then turned and passed it to Artis, who was spotted up on the perimeter.
Artis, who was 1 of 6 from 3-point range in the game prior to this possession, caught the ball then calmly stroked a 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 70-67 lead with 33 seconds to play.
The Seminoles then failed to get the ball inbounds and turned it over on a five-second call — even though they had a timeout left — and Young finished them off by hitting two free throws with 22.8 seconds to play.
Artis said he had confidence he was going to make the shot, despite having a tough outing to that point, because he's a good shooter and because he got a great look at the basket.
“I am just very confident in my shooting ability and ability to make plays,” Artis said. “I knew I was going to hit a big one, my guys believed in me and they kept getting me the basketball and know that I am going to keep making the play.
“I am going to keep being confident, that was a big shot but it was also a big pass from Ryan. I knew I was either going to hit a big shot or make a play for another person ...”
Pitt was outrebounded, 33-32, but the Panthers benefited from the Seminoles carelessness. Florida State turned over the ball 16 times, including five down the stretch.
Artis finished with 16 points, James Robinson added 14 and Young had 13. Florida State got 16 from freshman Malik Beasley, who fouled out with 2:24 to play.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.
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