Men’s basketball: Gibbs, Dixon get back on track as Backyard Brawl looms

By Kelly Flanigan

It was the sharp-shooting of Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon that led No. 25 Pitt (18-6) over… It was the sharp-shooting of Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon that led No. 25 Pitt (18-6) over the Robert Morris Colonials (16-9) on Monday night.

The long-range shooting of the guards sparked the Panthers, coming off recent losses against South Florida and West Virginia.

Gibbs, who collected 20 points on the night for only the second time in 10 games, shot 40 percent from both the field and behind the arc.

In each his last three games, he has scored only 11 points, while his season average has hovered between the 16- and 17-point range.

His shooting drought, though, came to an end against RMU, as he sank four shots from both the field and beyond the arc, and drained all eight of his free throws.

“It felt good [to finally see some threes go down]. It’s something I’ve been working on consistently. I knew it would fall sooner or later, so I was just taking advantage of what they’d given me and was finally connecting,” Gibbs said.

He credited his teammates for finding him in open spots and distributing the ball to him.

Dixon, who collected 18 points against the Colonials, shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, grabbed six rebounds — and played the typical hard-nosed defense that seems to be characteristic of Pitt. He had only eight 3-pointers coming into the game.

“I think I was taking some bad shots throughout the course of the year. This time I got more open threes. When I get open shots, and get some lift on my shot, I can knock it down,” he said.

Dixon claims he would rather drive to the paint, since he feels he can beat a player to the basket on their close-out.

“We played probably the best basketball of our season in the first half, and we’re still down six or eight points because of the daggers that he buried from three point range, but defensively is where he is really good,” Colonials head coach Mike Rice said.

In fact, he held Robert Morris freshman Karon Abraham to only two points in the final 25 minutes of play.

“[Dixon] locks you down. He makes you catch the ball four or five feet from where you should catch the ball,” Rice said.

Dixon said the ability to shoot threes keeps other teams honest. Pitt is able to penetrate and dish the basketball because the defense will extend out more if the team can shoot the long-range shots. Forwards like Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor also benefit.

Plagued by recent injuries, Dixon, who broke his right foot and was out six months over the summer, sprained his ankle against St. John’s, and dislocated his finger during the Seton Hall game, practed only sporadically last week.

“There was a two week stretch where he didn’t practice and didn’t play. He was hurt. He had the dislocated finger, the foot was acting up, but he practiced yesterday and two days before Seton Hall,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s a different player now and we’re a different team, and I think that’s clear. We feel like him practicing makes us a better team. It makes him better and it makes us better.

Jamie Dixon said that, as a general rule, 3-point shooting is not only an issue of confidence, but also of offensive execution. It implies that the team has good ball movement and is taking good shots. For Jermaine, he said it was practicing and continuing to put himself in “shooting situations.”

With continued sharp-shooting by this tandem, and solid defensive performances, fans can expect the Panthers will be back in action and ready to go against rival West Virginia on Friday.

“I think it starts on the defensive end. We need to stop giving them easy buckets, and rebound. That’s what they killed us on. They simply out-toughed us. We’ve got to come out with a lot of energy and intensity and if we do that, we’ll be fine,” Gibbs said.

Jermaine Dixon says that the team’s Feb. 3 Morgantown matchup is behind them and emphasized that the team learned from the loss.

“We’re anxious because it’s the next game we’ll play — not just because it’s West Virginia. Whether it’s West Virginia or anybody, we’re a new team since that game,” Jermaine Dixon said.