Created on Thursday, 15 November 2012 02:43 Written by Nate Barnes / Staff Writer
DraftExpress.com describes Pitt basketball’s James Robinson as a “tough and team-oriented player” in its profile of the freshman guard.
After Pitt’s 78-53 dismantling of Lehigh and its superstar, sure-fire NBA draft-pick C.J. McCollum Tuesday, Robinson has put both of these qualities on full display in just three regular season games.
Looking at the game’s box score, one would think McCollum had a pretty solid performance. He tallied 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 3-4 from 3-point range. He also turned the ball over five times.
McCollum, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard, will likely become a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
One scout in attendance Tuesday described his skill set as such: “[McCollum] can play multiple positions, which makes him more valuable,” he said. “He’s a fundamentally sound, solid player, and even when outmatched, like last night, he still makes the right plays, right passes, right cuts and right drives. He really plays the game effortlessly.”
McCollum, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard, burst on to the national basketball scene during the NCAA tournament earlier this year when he and No. 15 Lehigh delivered a stunning upset of No. 2 Duke. In a battle of guards, McCollum outplayed Austin Rivers — the No. 10 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft — with a 30-point, six-rebound and six-assist performance.
Back to Tuesday.
Prior to the game, head coach Jamie Dixon said Robinson would start as the primary defender on McCollum. If anyone has heard Dixon speak of Robinson, he raves about his defense — and for good reason.
“[Robinson] is deceptively athletic. He’s got good size, he’s smart, he’s tough,” Dixon said. “It’s very rare to have a freshman who can defend as he can.”
Tuesday night, Robinson and the Panthers locked down McCollum for almost every single one of the 31 minutes the latter spent on the floor. Robinson and Trey Zeigler drew the actual assignment of marking McCollum, but the entire Panther defense played a huge role in neutralizing him.
“It’s gotta be team defense with [McCollum]. He uses a lot of ball screens, and you gotta handle those well,” Dixon said.
The Panthers handled just about everything Lehigh threw at them, especially the team’s attempts to get McCollum open and put the basketball in his hands — most notably, through ball screens.
Robinson ran through and around just about every single screen any Mountain Hawk player tried to set on him, similar to the way in which freshman running back Rushel Shell of the Panthers football team eluded tacklers in September at Heinz Field against Virginia Tech.
No one could keep Robinson from checking McCollum.
In the first half, the senior scored seven points in the first six minutes of the game. From there, he was prevented from scoring until the 15:05 mark in the second half.
The Panthers held the preseason All-American scoreless for nearly 20 minutes of game time, or about an hour of real time. By the time McCollum ended his scoring drought, the Mountain Hawks were losing their grip on the game, and Pitt had already made their superstar a non-factor.
Post-game, McCollum was a man of few words.
“They did a good job overall,” McCollum said when asked about Pitt’s defensive effort and, of course, that of Robinson.
Robinson exuded quiet confidence when reflecting upon his lockdown performance.
“I just wanted to be solid. I know the coaches put a lot of trust in me to check [McCollum] right from the jump ball,” Robinson said. “I know my team trusts me, and they have my back.”
And solid Robinson was. Pitt as a whole did a great job making sure McCollum couldn’t do to them what he did to Duke.
“Pitt is one of the best defensive teams in the country. That’s their M.O.,” the scout said. “The gameplan was to limit his catches and funnel him to the left. Every time he went to the basket, he ran into double-teams. On pick-and-rolls, Pitt got the ball out of his hands.”
But Robinson stepped up more than any other Panther.
Defensively, he didn’t take his eyes off McCollum. Every time down the floor, Robinson face-guarded McCollum, preventing him from even touching the ball on many of Lehigh’s offensive sequences.
One particular example of this pattern came right out of the gate in the first half. After McCollum scored on Lehigh’s first two possessions to give the Mountain Hawks a 5-2 lead in the opening minutes, it seemed McCollum was about to turn in an impressive performance — one with which any of the dozen-or-so NBA scouts in the media section would present to their respective general managers, salivating over the kid’s scoring prowess and ability to guide a team like Lehigh to victory over a nationally prominent team like Pitt.
Robinson made sure that didn’t happen.
McCollum didn’t even touch the ball on his team’s following three possessions. When he got the ball next, he turned it over. By the time McCollum was able to have any sort of say in the game, it was already heading in Pitt’s favor.
So, when looking at the box score, people will likely say McCollum “got his,” and the rest of the Mountain Hawks couldn’t keep up.
But anyone who watched the game knows Pitt and Robinson made Tuesday night’s game much more difficult than the statistics could ever illustrate.