Men’s Basketball: Panthers still looking for first Big East win

By Kelly Flanigan

The intimidating aura that once surrounded the Petersen Events Center seems to be slowly… The intimidating aura that once surrounded the Petersen Events Center seems to be slowly slipping away as the Pitt men’s basketball team has now lost four consecutive home games.

The Panthers (11-9, 0-7 Big East) — preseason picks to finish in the top five in the Big East — now find themselves last in the standings as the only winless team in the conference.

Pitt will look to pick up that first conference win — and stop an eight-game losing skid — when it takes on Providence (12-8, 1-6 Big East) tonight at the Petersen Events Center.

“Coach just keeps telling us to believe,” redshirt sophomore J.J. Moore said. “The team is telling us to believe. We’re just trying to find the flaws and trying to find what is going on.”

Since falling to Rutgers 62-39 on Jan. 11, the team seems to be improving. The Panthers lost at No. 1 Syracuse and Marquette by single digits before losing to Louisville at home 73-62 after jumping out to a lead in the first half.

Pitt has been unable to sustain a lead in the second half of its games mostly due to inconsistency, poor shooting and defensive lapses.

“It’s tough to lose, but I think by the way they’ve played, it shows,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s not like they have not come out and responded.”

Moore said Dixon emphasized turnovers being a problem.

“We’ve been averaging 15.5 turnovers a game in the past couple of games,” Moore said. “I don’t think it’s any one thing that is keeping us from winning. We just have to find our ways, and we are trying to do that now.”

Moore also said that giving up layups has been an issue on the defensive end. The team’s goal is to give up 10 or fewer layups per game, but the Panthers have been allowing nearly 16 layups a game of late.

“We need to keep getting better defensively both man-to-man and within our zone,” Dixon said. “We know we have to make improvements, and we can do it. We’re trying to teach the new guys to do things consistently every time out.”

After the loss to Louisville on Saturday, Pitt point guard Travon Woodall — who returned from abdominal and groin injuries he suffered in November — said he was “ready to play” and that the injury was “not an excuse.”

Woodall didn’t score, dished out two assists and turned the ball over three times in 21 minutes against the Cardinals.

“I’m back, and I got cleared to play,” he said. “I am all here, but I just didn’t have it today. I tried to go out and give it my all, but unfortunately it was nowhere near enough.”

Dixon said that Woodall practiced Monday, but added that it’s going to take time for him to improve.

Junior Dante Taylor fell on his back during practice on Monday and was seen by the team’s doctor on Monday afternoon. He’s questionable for today’s contest and could leave the Panthers short on depth in the frontcourt.

“He probably has a bruise,” Dixon said. “He went down pretty hard.”

The Panthers will need a healthy and consistent lineup if they want to stop their losing streak tonight. Dixion called Providence an experienced team and added that guard Vincent Council will be most valuable player on the floor for the Friars.

Council runs the Friar offense and averages 16.2 points and seven assists per game. His backcourt mate, sophomore guard Bryce Cotton, averages 14.8 points per game.

“Providence has got a lot of size; at times they like to play small too,” Dixon said. “They rely a lot on their perimeter scoring. Council has really gotten better each year.”

The Friars’ only Big East win came at home in a 90-59 upset over then-No. 15 Louisville. Providence has four players averaging double figures in points per game.

Dixon said the Panthers are committed to fixing the team and picking up their first win tonight. Moore agreed.

“We’re playing as if Wednesday is going to be our first win,” Moore said. “We’re just going to continue to play hard. We’re trying to pick things up and get everything together.