THE DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Men’s Basketball: Panthers look to end losing streak

RJ Sepich | January 4, 2012    

A Jamie Dixon-coached team has never lost four games in a row.

But coming off consecutive… A Jamie Dixon-coached team has never lost four games in a row.

But coming off consecutive losses to Wagner, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, the Pitt men’s basketball team (11-4, 0-2 Big East) needs a win at DePaul (9-4, 0-1 Big East) on Thursday night to avoid the first four-game losing streak of Dixon’s career.

“It’s definitely a must-win,” Pitt senior Nasir Robinson said. “We’re going to go out there hungry and try to get this thing back on track, get back to playing Pitt basketball and winning. We took some losses … We’re not going to dwell on it. We’re just going to move on and get ready.”

Sophomore J.J. Moore said the Panthers don’t consider themselves underdogs.

“We don’t see it as us against the world,” he said. “We just see it as we made a mistake. It’s us. It was our problem. It wasn’t the coaching staff, it was us as a team. We weren’t playing together as a team.”

Many of Pitt’s recent struggles stem from problems on the offensive side of the floor.

Since losing point guard Travon Woodall for several games with an abdominal tear and groin strain, the Panthers have battled with turnovers and poor shooting.

“We’re just missing shots and not taking advantage of our opportunities,” senior guard Ashton Gibbs said after the game against Cincinnati. “We need to get better and take advantage of what the defense is giving us.”

In the seven games before Woodall suffered his injuries in the Duquesne game, the Panthers averaged 80.4 points per game. In the eight games since, Pitt’s point production has dropped to an average of 68.5.

Woodall met with a doctor, but Dixon hadn’t heard any feedback yet on Tuesday.

Woodall returned for Pitt’s game against Notre Dame on Dec. 27, playing 18 minutes and dishing out two assists. But the point guard didn’t look completely healed in the game, and he didn’t see the floor against Cincinnati.

“He wanted to go earlier than the Notre Dame game,” Dixon said. “Once he got in the game, it didn’t feel like he thought it was going to feel, and obviously you could see from how he was moving it wasn’t what he expected.”

There are no surgical options for Woodall’s injuries; his status for Thursday’s game against DePaul is questionable at best.

Forward Talib Zanna, who suffered a blow to the face against Cincinnati, practiced on Tuesday and will play against DePaul. Dixon said Zanna wanted to return in the second half against the Bearcats, but couldn’t because he experienced some concussion symptoms.

Players have to sit out for 24 hours after their concussion symptoms are gone before they can return to the court.

Picked to finish dead last in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, DePaul’s recent play in nonconference action has been a surprise.

After a 4-3 start, second-year coach Oliver Purnell’s Blue Demons rattled off five consecutive victories in December to finish nonconference play with a respectable 9-3 record.

“They’ve gotten better and put some guys around them, gotten a little deeper,” Dixon said. “[They’re] doing the same things, but I think they are just doing them with a little bit more confidence and a little bit more experience.”

However, the winning streak ended with a 21-point defeat in their conference opener at home against the No. 1 team in the country, Syracuse.

“We learned today that you can’t give up and that we’re still a work in progress,” DePaul sophomore forward Donnavan Kirk said after the loss. “Trust me — our heads are not going to be down.”

The Blue Demons are one of the highest scoring teams in the Big East at 77.1 points per game. They also have the third leading scorer in the conference in sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin, who averages 18.8 points per game.

Guards Brandon Young and Jeremiah Kelly also pose a scoring threat for DePaul, averaging 16.1 and 10.2 points per contest, respectively.

Despite Pitt’s recent struggles, history will be on the Panthers side on Thursday night.

Since DePaul joined the Big East in 2005, the Blue Demons have lost all seven match-ups with Jamie Dixon’s Panthers.

“We’re just going out there, playing hard,” Moore said. “I know a lot of people are doubting us making the tournament. In our eyes, we know that we’re going to play hard and make the tournament. We’re as a team together, all in. We’re playing hard, and we see it each and every day. We just have to go out there and show it on the court.”

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