Benjamin Makes His Mark

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon believed it was inevitable for senior guard Keith Benjamin's scoring output to increase markedly once he moved into the starting lineup seven games ago for the Panthers.

If Dixon would have known exactly how well that Benjamin would play, he probably would have played him more minutes all along. A bit player during his previous seasons, Keith Benjamin is now the go-to guy for Pittsburgh.

Benjamin has made six starts since junior point guard Levance Fields was injured Dec. 29 at Dayton. In those games, he has played nearly 35 minutes and averaged about 55 percent from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range and 16 points per game. These numbers are nearly triple his previous stats. For the season, Benjamin is at 9.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game with 31 assists and 15 steals in about 23 minutes.

"We talked about him deserving to get more minutes ... and knew that his production would go up just because of the dramatic increase in minutes,'' Dixon said. "When you're talking about 35 minutes a game, everything should go up because he's out there more. But he's played very well, and I think he's played within himself, not trying to do too much.

"Even though he's played more, he hasn't taken more shots or looked for them. The shots just came to him, and his shot selection has been tremendous. His balance and shot preparation have improved, and when you take good shots ... that really carries over. And he's improved tremendously on defense. He worked hard all summer, and he was a leader.''

Dixon was especially pleased with the way Benjamin came back after being injured at Cincinnati Saturday. While attempting to make a steal, Benjamin's right (shooting) hand was cut and needed five stitches to close the wound.

Benjamin needed five stitches in his right (shooting) hand after it was cut during the game Saturday at Cincinnati. He played with the hand heavily bandaged and still was able to hit some big 3-pointers in the second half to get Pitt back in the game before it fell short at the end. Benjamin is expected to get the stitches out sometime after the Rutgers game Saturday.

"My hand feels better,'' Benjamin said. "It's closed up, and it's healing real fast. And it feels better right now than it did on Saturday. ... I really don't expect anything to be different. Some shots that I took in the second half of the game rimmed in and out. They felt good, so I really don't see much of a difference. We're just going to tape it a different way this week to see how it feels.''

Benjamin did not practice Monday, but he expected to give it a go Tuesday and to play against St. John's Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. And he believed he would pick up right where he left off before the injury.

"I've put a lot of hours in the gym just shooting the basketball and being ready to shoot,'' Benjamin said. "I'm working on my balance. I used to take a lot of off-balance shots, but now I'm working on catching and shooting the ball and being ready, knowing that I'm going to shoot.

"So, I'm ready now, and I'm following through a lot more. My technique is down pat, so I'm a better shooter now. But with the way DeJuan (Blair) and Sam (Young) are dominant down low, that opens things up for us on the outside. As long as the 3s are open, I don't have anything else to do but make them.''

Benjamin was asked again about playing more minutes, but he preferred to give credit to his teammates instead.

"The minutes play a big part, but for me it's just feeding off Sam and DeJuan inside,'' Benjamin said. "So, I'm just picking my spots smartly and taking good shots. Coach says for me not to settle for bad shots, but look to get the good shots. So, I'm taking them and making them, and I want to keep it going.

"As of right now, I'm just out there having fun and playing the game smart. I want to execute our offense, but if there's an opening I'm going to take it. I just want to be aggressive with my situation, and I want to take advantage of it. And when I don't score, my teammates will pick up the slack. So, we're looking forward to getting back in the win column, and this is the game to do it.''

Pitt's game with Rutgers Saturday is at 6 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

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