Men’s basketball notebook: Gibbs, defense and the road ahead

By Kelly Flanigan

Stand-Out Guard

Ashton Gibbs, who scored 23 points in Monday’s 65-52 win against DePaul, has… Stand-Out Guard

Ashton Gibbs, who scored 23 points in Monday’s 65-52 win against DePaul, has been performing consistently for the Panthers (11-2, 1-0). He also grabbed seven rebounds, six of which came in the first half.

Following Gibbs’ freshman season, the coaching staff emphasized the importance of his rebounding. It was a major focus this week in practice.

“We have recently talked to Ashton about picking up his rebounding numbers. He went and got some of them, and that’s a really big thing,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

He shot 7-for-11 from the field, and 75 percent from 3-point range in the first Big East matchup. Limiting himself to only one turnover, Gibbs dished out four assists and stole the ball twice.

Even DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright recognized the great play from Gibbs.

“It looks like Ashton Gibbs will be the next really good guard to come out of this building. He’s a terrific shooter. He takes advantage of every opening. Obviously, he was the key to the game,” Wainwright said

The Panthers struggled from the foul line against DePaul in the first half, shooting only 1-for-6. But Gibbs remained perfect, as he drained his 33rd consecutive shot since Pitt played Texas in the Jimmy V Classic.

Quick Offense, Relentless Defense

The Panthers got off to an explosive start, where ball movement and smart passing seemed much improved from previous games this season, against DePaul.

“I thought we defended well for a while and our offense was very good at certain points, but we didn’t sustain that,” Dixon said. “I thought we attacked the zone well, but offensively we need to do it for 40 minutes. That’s a high and lofty goal, but we’re trying to.”

After this spurt of promising offense, Pitt seemed to take their foot off the gas as the clock ticked further into the first half.

“We started off pretty good and then we came down a little bit. Defensively, I think we’ve got to step it up in the stretches and that brings our offense together as well. If we get it together defensively during our stretches, we’ll be fine,” Gibbs said.

At one point, the Blue Demons cut Pitt’s lead to only five points. But, then, the Panther defense took over.

Limiting DePaul to only 52 points and less than 35 percent field goal percentage, Pitt’s defense remained reliable as the Blue Demons were never within less than five points.

To complement their relentless defense, Dixon was pleased that the Panther turnovers have decreased.

“A turnover is something where one is too many- that’s our mentality, but our goal is less than twelve, and we got to that tonight,” he said.

The Panthers outrebounded the Blue Demons 40-33 and benefitted from the aggression of their perimeter players.

“Our field goal percentage defense is good. I’ve told our guys we can be a very good defensive team, but there is improvement to be made,” Dixon said.

Games to Come

After defeating DePaul (7-6, 0-1) on Monday night, the Panthers will continue their toughest stretch of the season.

Three of the next five opponents Pitt faces are ranked.

On Saturday, the Panthers take on the No. 5 Syracuse Orange (12-0), led by head coach Jim Boeheim, who average almost 90 points per game. But this didn’t seem to concern Panther guard Jermaine Dixon.

“People don’t think we can score. We’re going show people we can score. And everybody is doubting us, so we’re going to show people we can play defense too,” Dixon said.

Gibbs is confident in his team’s performance to come in the following weeks, as well.

“The Big East Conference is one of the best conferences in the country, so you’re going to be playing great teams each and every day. Anybody can be beat on any given day. If we come prepared, I think we can beat anybody,” he said.

The team will certainly need continued production out of Gibbs, Dixon and Brad Wanamaker to take on the caliber of their road schedule ahead.

After Syracuse, Pitt will face Cincinnati and No. 10 Connecticut on the road, followed by Louisville and No. 13 Georgetown at home.

“Everybody’s got their stretch — it is the Big East. I know we play Syracuse next, we’ve got days to get ready but we need to do some things better,” Jamie Dixon said.