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RE21PECT: Jeter sparks Pitt off bench in win over Syracuse - The Pitt News

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RE21PECT: Jeter sparks Pitt off bench in win over Syracuse

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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Pitt men’s basketball head coach Jamie Dixon described the sea of fresh, black Oakland Zoo T-shirts as “as good as we’ve ever had.” But the novel concept of a “blackout” crowd wasn’t what stuck out the most following Pitt’s 83-77 home victory over Syracuse this weekend.

Instead, Sheldon Jeter, the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward who averaged less than seven minutes per contest over the last eight games, provided an undeniable spark off the bench for the Panthers, tallying a career-high 18 points in the victory. He made key passes and jumpers as the Panthers pulled away from the Orange late in the game to seal the win.

Jeter saw 23 minutes in the game, a drastic jump in playing time, after an early-game ankle injury to senior guard Cameron Wright forced Dixon to look to his bench earlier than expected.

While he didn’t know until halftime that Wright would be out for the entirety of the game, the forward knew that he had to make the most of whatever playing time he received.

“My mindset was to just go in there and play hard,” Jeter said. “My minutes have been sporadic lately, so whatever time I got, I was going to make the most of it.”

Shifting between the 3 and 4 throughout the contest, Jeter played physically, getting to the line eight times, and found open shots consistently, going 7-9 from the field.

Orange head coach Jim Boeheim was quick to acknowledge Jeter’s contributions to the game.

“I thought the difference in the game was Jeter coming off the bench,” Boeheim said in his postgame press conference. “He made some big shots.”

Those big shots included a handful of open shots, a rousing dunk to bring the capacity crowd at the Petersen Events Center to its feet and, most notably, a jumper with 2:59 remaining to give Pitt a 73-72 lead, an advantage the Panthers would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.

Jeter’s road to Pitt has been long and winding. After spending his freshman year in 2012-13 at Vanderbilt, the forward, originally from Beaver Falls, Pa., decided he wanted to be closer to home, and hoped to transfer to Pitt.

After Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings blocked Jeter’s ability to transfer to Pitt­ — for reasons still unconfirmed — Jeter left the Commodores and attended Polk State community college last year, not competing for them in order to preserve his remaining three years of Division I eligibility.

After eventually committing to Pitt last summer — choosing the Panthers over the likes of Georgetown, Ohio State and VCU — fans and coaches expected much of Jeter for the 2014-15 season. A tall forward who can shoot (he shot 39 percent from beyond the arc his freshman year at Vanderbilt) is hard to come by.

But Jeter struggled to meet expectations at Pitt, or, perhaps, has simply not had the opportunities to do so. Before Saturday’s contest against Syracuse, Jeter has only seen 10-plus minutes in three of Pitt’s previous 10 Atlantic Coast Conference games.

Still, Dixon knows how hard the sophomore has been working, and was glad to see Jeter’s efforts pay dividends against the Orange.

“I saw him out here late watching film and out here shooting in the gym on his own. I texted him, ‘I know how bad you want this. I know how hard you’re working. It’s going to come,’” Dixon said after the game. “I’m so excited for him.”

When asked after the game how it felt to have a performance like this after his fluctuating opportunities, Jeter wasn’t too focused on the personal aspect of the win.

“It feels great,” Jeter said. “We got the W. I played well, we all played well. We just need to keep this energy going. We have three straight wins, so we need to keep it going now.”

Pitt will look to “keep it going,” as Jeter said, on Wednesday, when the Panthers will go on the road to the KFC Yum! Center to face the Louisville Cardinals. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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RE21PECT: Jeter sparks Pitt off bench in win over Syracuse