It was the 20th straight exhibition win for Pittsburgh, which opened with a 102-51 win against Division II Seton Hill Nov. 2. The Panthers open the regular season against Fairleigh Dickinson Friday at 7 p.m. at the Pete.
"I think this is probably the most versatile team we've had since I got here,'' Pitt senior forward Sam Young said. "We have a lot of guys that can play different positions because of their size and skill. Once we get used to playing with each other at these different spots, I think we can be very dangerous.''
There was one switch to Pitt's starting lineup against La Roche. Junior-college transfer Jermaine Dixon started at two-guard in place of sophomore Bradley Wanamaker. Freshman Ashton Gibbs opened at the point again for ailing senior Levance Fields, Young and classmate Tyrell Biggs were the forwards, at the three and four spots, respectively, while sophomore DeJuan Blair was at center.
"It's really nice, but I know it doesn't mean I can let up or anything,'' Dixon said. "We have a lot of talented players on this roster, especially at the guard position. In practice, we rotate through a lot of different lineup combinations, so I guess today it was just my turn to get the start. I just went out and tried to make the most of the opportunity.''
La Roche was held to 30 points, the lowest scoring output against Pitt in its 27-year exhibition game history. The visiting Redhawks were limited to 23.8 percent (10-for-42) field-goal shooting, 23.8 percent (5-for-21) from 3-point range and and committed 26 turnovers. Pitt finished with 15 steals, eight blocked shots, tallied a 41-24 advantage in rebounds and outscored them 42-6 in the paint. It wasn't pretty.
Young led all scorers with 18 points, while Biggs and Wanamaker were a combined 9-for-9 from the field to finish with 11 and nine points, respectively. Dixon tallied 11 points, seven assists and five steals. Young added four blocked shots and seven rebounds, while Gibbs finished with seven assists and freshman Travon Woodall added five assists.
The Panthers, who held a 37-14 halftime advantage, assisted on 24 of 34 field goals and shot 55.7 percent (34-for-61) from the floor. Walk-ons Tim Frye and Ryan Tiesi also got into the game and scored. Pitt played without Fields (left foot) and redshirt sophomore forward Gilbert Brown (stress fracture in right foot).
"It's (Fields') decision when he can play,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "The injury isn't where we hoped it would be at this point, and there's no way to sugarcoat that. He's been playing with the injury for almost 11 months now.
"That affects everything you do as a player, be it conditioning to just basic basketball skills. It's very limiting, and it's not how you want to prepare for a season. (Brown) thought he might be able to play (in the opener).
"However, we're still not sure,'' Dixon added. "With a foot injury, there's not a lot of conditioning you can do. So, you don't want to rush him back in there cold. Hopefully, this won't be a long-term thing, and he's able to get healthy and just move forward.''
Pitt used a 7-0 run midway through the first half to build an 18-point lead (29-11) with 5:04 remaining. Biggs finished off an offensive rebound put-back, then added a jumper, while Young drove the lane and threw down a spectacular dunk for the rally. Pitt outscored LaRoche 8-0 over the first half's final 4:10 for its 23-point halftime lead going into the locker room.
"I think you can take something out of every game,'' Biggs said. "Coach told us at halftime that he really liked our patience on defense, especially that we weren't biting on all their ball fakes.
"You can learn something and get better in every game you play. I'm very much looking forward to starting the regular season. We beat each other up so much in practice that I'm looking forward to going at it against another team.''
Pitt opened the second half by scoring the first 13 points. The Panthers led 50-14 before La Roche's Steve Lucus hit a 3-pointer for his only basket.
While Pitt dominated the paint, its guard play has been solid so far -- especially at the point -- despite the absence of Fields.
"(Gibbs and Woodall) may be freshmen, but that's the kind of play we expect out of them,'' Coach Dixon said. "I thought Travon's defense really stood out, especially because we've been trying to get him to be more aggressive on that end of the floor. It says a lot when both players are hustling and diving for loose balls, even when you're up big on the scoreboard.
"(But) we're pretty comfortable with all our guards. Obviously, if Levance isn't able to go right away you lose 120 games of experience you can't replace. But both Ashton and Travon played in big games in high school, so they're somewhat familiar with pressure situations. Both have been very steady so far and are working hard to get better on defense.''
Young continues to play small forward, after playing primarily at the four spot (power forward) last season.
"It's a challenge, but it's something I like doing,'' Young said. "I realize that playing these two positions gives us a lot of options as a team and makes me a more dangerous player.
"Depending on who we're playing, I can either post-up a smaller guy as a small forward or take a bigger guy off the dribble at power forward. I'm really looking forward to getting more experience at small forward in games that count.''
Notes: In the alumni game that preceded the exhibition contest, the Gold Team registered a 47-43 victory against the White Squad. ... More than 45 former players, coaches and managers attended the weekend which included tickets to Pitt's Saturday football win against Louisville and a brunch Sunday morning. ... Notables included Charles Smith, Jerome Lane, Kirk Bruce, Sam Clancy, Jason Matthews, Keith Benjamin, Chris McNeal, Darren Morningstar and Calvin Sheffield. ... Pitt has now won its last four exhibition games by an average of 49.0 points. ... Attendance was 6,008.
Here is a link to Pitt's complete box score and the play-by-play:
Pitt Wins Big In Final Tuneup
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