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Dixon: Pitt must focus on rebounding against Florida State

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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In a 71-62 loss to Clemson on Saturday afternoon, the Pitt men’s basketball team had one of its worst rebounding performances under head coach Jamie Dixon. Now, Dixon and his team will try to rebound and redeem themselves on Wednesday evening in a home contest against Florida State.

The 2014-2015 Seminoles roster lacks a few names from last year’s team, which defeated the Panthers at home by a score of 71-66. Yet Dixon knows that he’ll still see much of the same from their ACC rivals. Much of the Seminoles’ height from last year will be back on Wednesday.

“They’re still big, but they’ve got some different guys,” Dixon, who will attempt to record his 300th career win on Wednesday, said. “They lost some experience in their seniors, but they’re doing some of the same things. They’re gonna guard the ball screens a similar way. We know what they’re going to do. We’ve just got to go out and play.”

Whether or not the Panthers can remedy their issues on the boards will be key to their sucess. Pitt’s struggles rebounding were on full display on Saturday when the Tigers outrebounded the Panthers by a margin of 17.

From there, improving the team’s rebounding numbers will prove difficult. Despite the departures of key contributors Okaro White, Robert Gilchrist and Aaron Thomas, the Seminoles still boast an impressive amount of depth, particularly in the paint.

The squad features three experienced seven-footers: juniors Boris Bojanovsky (7’3”) and Michael Ojo (7’1”), as well as redshirt graduate student Kiel Turpin (7’0”). All three play significant minutes for Florida State and dwarf Pitt’s tallest player, the 6’11” Joseph Uchebo.

Despite the Seminoles’ advantage in size, junior point guard James Robinson said the team simply needs to focus on fundamentals to improve its rebounding.

“[We’ve got to] box out. We have to be more physical than them,” Robinson said. “We have to be the aggressors in the game, not just on offense, but on defense as well.”

Sophomore guard Chris Jones noted that the blame for the lack of rebounds doesn’t solely fall on Pitt’s bigs.

“At Pitt, we believe in team rebounding,” Jones said. “It’s not just one person. It’s everybody. Guards have to get rebounds, bigs have to get rebounds. We addressed it as a team, and we’ll get it taken care of for Wednesday.”

Dixon did acknowledge that Pitt might have to adjust to face the trio of big men that Florida State sports.

“We know that they’re a big team,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to get more size. We’ve got to play some of the bigger guys. Joe [Uchebo], Derrick [Randall], Aron Nwankwo. But they’ve got to do the job when they get in there.”

The focus may be on the Seminoles’ players in the paint, but the team isn’t overlooking its opponent’s talent in the backcourt. 

The team’s three leading scorers are all guards — Montay Brandon (13.2 points per game), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (12.5) and Devon Bookert (9.9) — and Jones knows that they present a challenge as well.

“Obviously they have really good guards at the one, two and three,” Jones said. “Ball pressure appliance [will be important], and sliding down to the weak side to help box out when the shots do go up. But it starts with me, James and Cam [Wright] out in the backcourt, just guarding.”

With a less than perfect season so far, it’s easy to peg Wednesday’s contest as a must-win game for the Panthers. A 1-2 start in conference play against some lesser teams, evening their ACC record to .500 is all the more crucial. This is especially true with contests against highly-ranked Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame and North Carolina coming up.

Still, Dixon remains even-keeled, at least for the time being, and has preached about how much opportunity remains this year.

“We’re at the halfway point. Sixteen games,” Dixon said. “It seems like a long year already. But we play 32 and the conference tournament. There’s plenty of time to get things right. We’ve got to keep striving and tinkering.”

Tip-off at the Petersen Events Center is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Wednesday. 

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Dixon: Pitt must focus on rebounding against Florida State