The Pitt Panthers outrebounded their opponent by double-digits, forced Gannon to shoot in the 30s and beat the Golden Knights 80-50 Friday. All markers of a successful effort in Jamie Dixon's eyes.
Pitt handled its final exhibition tuneup of the preseason, but the game looked exactly like one early on. Most important to Dixon and his players, though, was the ability to play in a real game atmosphere even if the game doesn't officially count.
"Watching tonight you just saw the value," Dixon said of the exhibition game. "You see we’re rushing stuff, you could just see...The lights come on and people are watching, it’s a different thing."
The teams combined to shoot 29 percent from the field in the first half and the first basket of the game didn't fall through the net until after 4 1/2 minutes of game time elapsed. When Jean Yves Toupane made a jumpshot with 15:24 remaining in the first half, it snapped an 0-for-12 streak to start the game. Pitt didn't muster a field goal until Jamel Artis' jumper a a minute later.
"We took some maybe-not-the-best shots," James Robinson said. "Those are shots I think we can make."
22 free throw attempts helped Pitt overcome its 8-for-22 start from the field and take a 35-17 halftime lead over Gannon after the Golden Knights made only 6-of-26 attempts but shot only one free throw. Pitt took control of the game with a 15-0 run that spanned 6:02 and ended with three minutes left in the half.
"Even though we weren’t hitting shots it was good to see our defense didn’t waver too much," Robinson said. "We still had intensity on the defensive end."
One of the defensive highlights came on a drive by Gannon's C.J. Asuncion-Byrd when Alonzo Nelson-Ododa rose up to meet him and swat his shot attempt into the seats. The shot-blocking ability is what made the former Richmond Spider an attractive prospect for the Panthers on the transfer market.
"I used to block a lot of shots," Nelson-Ododa said. "Anything I can do to help out if a defender gets beat, just to block the shot or at least alter it so that they’ll miss."
The second half arrived and even after Gannon shot 4-of-5 to start the period, proceedings returned to normal. The Golden Knights cut Pitt's lead to 16, 40-24, but an Artis jumper followed by back-to-back 3-pointers by Robinson and Sterling Smith pushed the Panthers' lead back to 22.
Pitt's lead peaked at 33 late in the second half.
Cameron Johnson, Robinson and Artis led the Panthers with 13 points. Dixon used 13 players and the reserves contributed 47 points.
Toupane led all scorers with 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting. C.J. Asuncion-Byrd addded 10 for the Golden Knights, who shot 32.7 percent from the field.
- Jamie Dixon emptied his bench Friday with the exception of Rozelle Nix and Zach Smith. Smith will sit out the season due to transfer rules and Dixon announced Nix will redshirt. The Panthers added Nix as a JUCO recruit out of Pensacola State, as well as his coach and former Panther Ontario Lett to the staff, and the 6-foot-11, 300-pound center figured to help add needed size to Pitt's frontcourt. But after a few nagging injuries and some conditioning concerns, Dixon decided to keep him out at least for now.
- Dixon went with a unique lineup to start the game of Robinson, Chris Jones, Sterling Smith, Michael Young and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. Noticeably absent from that were Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter as returning starters but Dixon says he's not even close to finding that starting five.
"We’ve been preaching all year long, all offseason, all fall about best defensive players, best rebounders, those are the guys that are going to play. So that’s what we went with."
For what it's worth, Dixon added Friday's starting five was the group of starters when Pitt played its "secret scrimmage" against Georgetown.