PITTSBURGH — Pitt used a strong second half performance on offense to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center. The win improved Pitt to 3-3 and .500 on the season and also their first back-to-back wins on the year.
Second Half Changes Prove Vital
Pitt played far better in the second half offensively. They shot 20-for-26 from the field, including a perfect 17-for-17 from inside the 3-point arc.
This is much different than their first half performance, where they shot 11-for-32 from the field and 5-for-16 from 3-point range.
Much of the success for the Panthers came from different players contributing and scoring. Burton led with 10 points, Elliott scored nine points, Hugley scored eight points and Jorge Diaz Graham scored six points as well. The Panthers used their size of their guards and forwards to score down low and hit mid-range jumpers, exploiting the smaller stature of the Knights’ players.
“They tried to go inside the second half, which was very smart,” Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Tobin Anderson said post game. “Jeff [Capel] does a good job. They went inside against us. That caused problems against us, the high-low stuff. Hugley inside and their size caused us problems. I think it was very smart for them to play that way and that hurt us. We’re not a very big team and that was definitely a big advantage for them.”
It is unlikely that Pitt shoots perfectly from the field inside like they did against Fairleigh Dickinson in that second half the rest of the season. Still, Pitt executing on offense is important even this early on in the season, especially if they want to do so against tougher opponents in conference play.
Jamarius Burton is Crucial for Pitt to be Successful on Offense
Graduate guard Jamarius Burton played his best game of the season for the Panthers in the win over the Knights, scoring a team-high 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and made two of his three 3-point attempts.
Burton also tied with fellow graduate guard Nelly Cummings to lead the Panthers with four assists and only had one turnover. He also made a team high three steals in the win.
Burton sat out in the win over Alabama State on Sunday with a knee injury. The injury did not prevent him from playing the second most minutes for Pitt against Fairleigh Dickinson, 33:08, just behind Cummings, who led with 35:41 playing time.
He showed up to the press conference after head coach Jeff Capel and junior forward John Hugley spoke to go into the cold bath to reduce inflammation in his knee.
“It’s feeling pretty good,” Burton said on his knee. “I felt pretty good going into this game. My inflammation went down so I was able to move pretty good. When I got out there, I was locked in and just trying to give my team whatever I could.”
Burton provides great experience for a young team that still needs time to work together to get it all figured out. His ability to stay calm and either deliver a good pass, shoot a mid-range jumper or drive to the rim keeps defenders guessing and improves his team overall offensively.
If he stays healthy for most of the season, Burton will improve Pitt and keep make them a solid offensive team going through a tough ACC schedule.
Keep Hugley Out of Foul Trouble
Hugley is another player that has struggled to stay healthy this season. He suffered a knee injury and missed weeks of practice and the first two games of this season for Pitt.
He returned to the starting lineup against Michigan last week, sat the Arizona State game the next day and then came off the bench in the Alabama State game on Sunday.
Hugley scored 17 points, second best, on 7-for-10 shooting from the floor and made one three pointer as well against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Still, Hugley found himself in foul trouble, sending him to the bench and preventing him from playing more than 19 minutes Tuesday. He picked up two fouls with six and half minutes remaining in the first half and then earned a Class A technical foul and a foul on a charge with eight minutes left in the second half.
Hugley is clearly the most talented and important player for the Panthers. He is great scoring down in the post and also playing tough defense preventing shots near the hoop.
Like Burton, if he stays healthy and also out of foul trouble, Pitt will improve as the season goes along as their best player fulfills his potential.
Breaking Down the Press Needs to Improve
The Panthers struggled against the Knights press throughout the first half. The Knights chose to press with a trap, having one player press first before the other came and they both surrounded the ball carrier.
The ball handlers struggled as many times, no one would show for help, leading to difficult passes. The Panthers turned the ball over 15 times in the game, compared to 15 assists for a 1:1 assist-turnover ratio.
“We have to be stronger with the basketball,” Capel said on his teams’ turnovers. “We have to make better decisions. Those two things.”
They changed things up in the second half, as Pitt shifted towards a half-court offense, rather than rushing shots. This played into Pitt’s favor, as they neutralized Fairleigh Dickinson’s game plan of pressing, fast paced play and it showed in the better opportunities they created.
Capel Solidifying Rotation
Capel only played seven players consistently throughout the whole game. This included Cummings, Hugley and Burton, as well as guards in graduate Greg Elliott, redshirt senior Nike Sibande and forwards in first-year Jorge Diaz Graham and junior Blake Hinson.
Forwards in first-year Guillermo Diaz Graham, sophomore Nate Santos and sophomore center Federiko Federiko did not see many minutes. Capel justified this by how he wanted his team to play smaller to deal with the speed of the game and that it worked out well.
“It was just the rhythm of the game,” Capel said. “It was an odd game with the size. With Federiko and G [Guillermo Diaz Graham], those two guys especially, it was a tough game. When we subbed when John [Hugley] got in foul trouble, we went a little bit smaller because we wanted to switch. We wanted to switch the ball screens. We wanted to contain the penetration. I just didn’t think those two bigger guys were ready for that.”
Capel also mentioned that this is only just the second game that everyone on the team is healthy. Hugley and Burton starting means that other players won’t see as much time. The team’s health and game planning with determine rotations, but it will be interesting to see if those players who didn’t see much time against Fairleigh Dickinson will play against tougher opponents in the future.