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It’s a trap (game)! Pitt ekes out close win over Samford

By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

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In a contest much closer than expected, the Pitt men’s basketball team defeated the Samford Bulldogs by a final score of 63-56 in the first leg of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Pitt struggled in the first half, adjusting to Samford’s tenacious, in-your-face defense and full-court press, and trailed Samford as late as 5:52 remaining in the first half.

“We knew that they were going to press the whole game, for every possession, so we were prepared for that,” sophomore forward/center Mike Young said. “We knew they were going to be scrappy, they were going to play hard and play a lot of guys so that everyone would stay fresh.”

The Panthers began to work their way through the constant press, taking the lead later in the half thanks in large part to a run of three consecutive dunks by forward Jamel Artis, Young and forward Sheldon Jeter, with the latter coming via an alley-oop by point guard Josh Newkirk. A 3-pointer by Artis with 10 seconds remaining in the half gave Pitt a 31-23 lead and a much-needed boost for the team going into the break.

“I try to let the game come to me,” said Artis, who is 4-6 from long distance this year after going 2-2 on Sunday. “The shot clock was coming down, and I’m a good 3-point shooter. My team believed in me and gave me the ball.”

The Panthers gained some ground to start the second half, extending their lead to a game-high of 11 after guard/forward Chris Jones converted a pair of free throws with 7:41 remaining in the contest.

The Bulldogs were able to stick around though, thanks mainly to a barrage of threes from sophomore forward Tyler Hood. After going 1-4 from beyond the arc in the first half, Hood feasted from long range after the break, going 5-6 in the second period. He finished with 21 points, leading all scorers.

Hood’s biggest shot came with 28 seconds remaining, as he drained a three to cut Pitt’s lead to 59-56.

The Panthers still managed to escape, as Artis and point guard James Robinson each made two key free throws in crunch time to secure the win.

Young led the team, as he posted a career-high 20 points as well as five rebounds and an assist. The sophomore was dominant in the post, shooting 10-13 from the field. Artis was the only other Panther in double figures, scoring 12 while securing five rebounds.

The team will likely emphasize rebounding in practice, as the Panthers were bested on the boards by the Bulldogs 33-31. Even Samford head coach Scott Padgett was surprised by how well his team did securing rebounds against a bigger Pitt team.

“If you had told me that we were going to out-rebound [Pitt] in this game, I would have bet any amount of money you wanted that they would have beat us by 15 on the boards,” Padgett said.

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon highlighted rebounding as well, citing the margin as the main reason the game remained as close as it did.

“We simply got outrebounded, and obviously that’s our calling card,” Dixon said. “We didn’t get it done there. We don’t win very often when we get outrebounded, so that’s why we weren’t as good as we should have been tonight.”

While the victory on Sunday wasn’t overly encouraging, the team believes that experience finishing out close games will only benefit them in the long run.

“We’re a young team, so to get challenged early is a good thing,” Young said. “We’re going to bounce back better than people think.”

Pitt will travel to Hawaii, where the team will play its next four games. The first of the slate comes Friday, as the Panthers are set to take on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at midnight EST.

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It’s a trap (game)! Pitt ekes out close win over Samford