Ron Cook: Panthers give Jamie Dixon a much-needed win
February 29, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon hugs senior James Robinson as he comes out of the game against Duke in the second half Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Don’t minimize what Pitt did Sunday in any way, romping past No. 15 Duke, 76-62, at Petersen Events Center. When you bury the defending national champion just two weeks before Selection Sunday, it is a significant accomplishment.
Jamie Dixon, fully realizing Pitt was 0-6 against ranked teams this season, said his team really needed it.
“We’ve had a good year. We’ve won 20 games. A lot of people would jump up and down for 20 wins. We just hadn’t gotten that big win. We got it today.”
I say Dixon needed it just as much as the Pitt team, if not more.
For the first time in his 13 seasons as Pitt’s head coach, Dixon had been hearing criticism that went beyond his failures in the NCAA tournament. He hadn’t adapted to the ACC. He wasn’t recruiting the right type of players, which is to say good enough players. He wasn’t beating ranked teams anymore. He wasn’t winning all of the home games.
Maybe, some suggested, Dixon’s time at Pitt should be coming to an end.
Dixon shrugged it all off.
“Don’t even go there, that I haven’t had criticism. I’ve taken plenty of criticism. Every loss we’ve had here, it’s a devastating loss in everybody’s mind. It’s a high bar that we’ve set. Would I rather be a low-bar university and everybody is happy? No. I’ll take this.”
Dixon said he understands the impatience with him and his program. Pitt hasn’t excelled in the ACC the way it did in the Big East, where Dixon won two regular-season championships and a league tournament title and led Pitt to two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Pitt has been a middle-of-the-pack team in its three years in ACC play, going 9-7 this season and 28-24 overall.
“We’re always changing. We are adapting. It just takes time sometimes,” Dixon said. “Maybe it’s taken a little longer than it normally has. But we’re playing pretty good right now, so maybe we are doing something right.”
That’s Dixon’s story and he’s sticking to it.
“It’s a team that has come together. We’re playing our best basketball right now.”
Dixon mentioned Pitt’s win Feb. 20 at Syracuse. He talked of how Pitt should have beaten No. 11 Louisville at home Wednesday night after leading, 48-40, with 9 minutes left. Of course, he mentioned how Pitt beat Duke with defense and rebounding. Pitt held Duke to 37.5 percent shooting and outrebounded it, 39-20.
“That’s who we want to be,” Dixon said. “When the shots go in for us, we’re hard to beat.”
Pitt shot 50 percent, including 40 percent on 3-point shots.
Dixon called the 67-60 loss to Louisville “devastating,” but praised his players for bouncing back quickly in practice. Senior James Robinson, making his school-record 130th start and final one at Petersen Events Center, said Saturday’s practice was the best of the season.
“We put our heart into that game,” Dixon said of the Louisville loss. “You can think about it. You can complain about it. Or you can do something about it. That’s what we did. It took a lot of people not having any doubts.”
Dixon seemed most pleased that Pitt sent Robinson out with a win in his final home game. He said Robinson is playing the best basketball of his career. Teammate Chris Jones said the other players have rallied around him.
“There was a lot of motivation. We told him after the last game, ‘We’re not losing this next game.’ We actually promised him. We made it happen.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noticed Pitt’s commitment. On defense. On the boards. Everywhere.
“They outplayed us for 40 minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “All of their kids were locked in. They were superb …
“I just think they did their thing. Not that it was a surprise. We think Pitt is an outstanding team. We just couldn’t stop it.”
The win assured that Dixon beat a ranked opponent for the 13th consecutive season. It also eased the sting from not just the Louisville game, but home losses to Virginia, North Carolina State and Purdue.
“I know we’ve let them down,” Dixon said of the Oakland Zoo. “I think we made up for it today.”
Pitt still probably needs to win one more game to get in the NCAA tournament. It plays at Virginia Tech Wednesday night and at Georgia Tech Saturday before the ACC tournament.
Dixon isn’t taking anything for granted but said he likes Pitt’s chances of not just getting to the NCAAs, but doing some damage.
“It’s been a long year. I know there are some teams that are dragging right now. This one isn’t. It’s good to be playing really good at this time of the year.”
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter@RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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