Pitt's Jeter sparks 90-71 victory against Virginia Tech
January 31, 2016 8:57 PM
Pitt's Sheldon Jeter grabs a rebound in front of Virginia Tech's Justin Bibbs in the first half of Sunday's game at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Ryan Luther drives to the net against Virginia Tech in the second half Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt had gotten off to slow starts in each of the past three games. As a result, coach Jamie Dixon had hinted last week that there could be some lineup and rotation changes.
Sunday when the Panthers played host to Virginia Tech, there was a significant change as junior Sheldon Jeter made his first start of the season.
That move seemed to be the spark Pitt needed. The Panthers got off to a good start and had an even stronger finish.
Jeter scored 11 of the Panthers’ first 15 points and finished with a career-high 23. He also grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Panthers to a 90-71 ACC victory against the Hokies before a crowd of 10,049 at Petersen Events Center.
“That was a good decision [to start Jeter],” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “Obviously they saw something they thought he could exploit — he scored a point per minute played [Jeter played 23 minutes], that’s pretty good points per possession.”
It was an important win for Pitt (17-4, 6-3) because it has a week to prepare for a huge home game Saturday against No. 11 Virginia (17-4, 6-3).
Dixon had used graduate transfer Rafael Maia as the starting center in each of the past 15 games, but recently his production had dropped off and he had tweaked his groin, so Jeter got the start and it paid it off in a big way.
“It was a combination of things,” Dixon said when asked why he started Jeter.
“It was good for Sheldon to get going, I’ve always said he has been one of our guys; we’ve considered him a starter. I didn’t feel like we got him in the last game enough, and of course, he was coming off that concussion so he hadn’t practice.
“But we have to find ways to get him going both offensively and defensively.”
Jeter quickly made it clear it was the right decision because he made his first five field-goal attempts and helped the Panthers build a 19-13 lead through the first 10 minutes of the game.
He said he didn’t know he was going to start until earlier in the day at the shootaround when Pitt assistant Brandin Knight approached him and asked him if he would bring energy at the start of the game like he usually does off the bench.
“It is kind of hard to get in a rhythm,” Jeter said.
“When you come off the bench, you’re kind of tight after getting loose in warm-ups. You go up and down a couple of times and then you are finally loose.
“But with this team, with how deep we are, if you make a certain amount of mistakes your first couple of times in, you’ll get pulled because somebody else is the next man up. So it was good to start the game loose, not being tight and having to get warmed up again.”
Point guard James Robinson had eight points and 11 assists and directed an efficient Panthers offense that had 30 assists on 36 field goals made.
Robinson said Jeter always brings a spark off the bench and provides the Panthers with a little bit different look offensively than the other centers.
“It is a really big factor for us with Sheldon being aggressive,” Robinson said. “When he comes in from off of the bench he brings the ‘scoring off of the bench’ factor. Today he came in right off of the jump and was aggressive for us and hit shots for us.
“He had a really good game.”
The Hokies (12-10, 4-5) battled back, made a 10-4 run and tied the score, 23-23, on a 3-pointer by Seth Allen with 6:18 left in the first half.
But sophomore forward Ryan Luther, who, like Jeter, has seen his role steadily increase in recent games, hit a 3-pointer and that sparked a 10-0 Pitt run that put the Panthers ahead, 33-23.
Virginia Tech cut Pitt’s lead to six points, 38-32, on a 3-pointer by Justin Bibbs, but Cameron Johnson made a 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining and it was 41-32 Panthers at the half. After an early second-half basket by Mike Young, the Hokies didn’t get closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
The final blow was a 15-5 run that pushed the lead to 69-48 with 9:31 remaining in the game.
“I thought we were really aggressive with the ball and we shared the ball well tonight,” Robinson said. “We were the aggressors and we didn’t play on our heels nor did we play passively. That’s what we were really emphasizing on the offensive side the last two days in practice.
“It was good to see it translate into the game.”
Michael Young added 13 points and seven rebounds, Jamel Arits added 11 points and Luther finished with 9 points and two rebounds.
Allen led all scorers with 28 points for the Hokies.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, and Twitter @paulzeise.
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