Foul line efficiency helps push Pitt past Morehead State, 72-62

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Foul line efficiency helps push Pitt past Morehead State, 72-62

Jamel Artis pushed the ball down the court.  Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Jamel Artis pushed the ball down the court. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Jamel Artis pushed the ball down the court. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Jamel Artis pushed the ball down the court. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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Pitt’s offensive formula has remained steady so far, with effective ball movement and smart shot selection spearheading the way, but on Sunday, converting from the foul line prevailed.

Led by 29-36 shooting on free throws, Pitt (8-1) shook off a slow shooting start to topple Morehead State University 72-62 at the Petersen Events Center Sunday.

The dependence on free throws didn’t surprise Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, as he preached to his team to find alternative shots.

“We saw that coming,” Dixon said. “It was not going to be a game of getting jump shots.”

The success at the line was more of the same for Pitt, as the Panthers ranked sixth in free throw percentage going into the game. What did come as a bit of surprise, though, was Pitt’s inability to make jumpers, shooting just 1-13 from behind the arc.

“[The offense] didn’t flow, and obviously we go 1-13 from three. You gotta make some shots,” Dixon said.

Pitt and Morehead State went back and forth at first, as Corban Collins knocked down a midrange jumper for the Eagles’ first bucket, which Pitt quickly matched with a James Robinson three.

Robinson said he expected the Eagles’ early fight, as the visitors held an 8-7 advantage almost six minutes into the game.

“We knew they were going to come in fighting,” Robinson said. “They were really scrappy, really aggressive.”

Though the game stayed close for the first 10 minutes, the teams’ offensive performances were on different ends of the spectrum. Morehead State generally could find jumpers and some easy shots inside off dribble drives. Pitt, though, could not solvetheir opposition’s defense, as it struggled to find quality shots and any offensive rhythm.

Morehead State head coach Sean Woods said he anticipated his team could attack off the drive.

“I didn’t think they could guard us at all off the bounce, and they couldn’t,” Woods said.

Pitt forward Michael Young did his part in sustaining Pitt’s offensive momentum, matching Lyonell Gaines with a jumper and a layup. In a three-minute stretch near the end of the first half, Young scored 10 consecutive points for Pitt.

It was a change from the early parts of the game, when Morehead State swarmed Young and limited his offense. Young finished as Pitt’s second leading scorer, totaling 20 points and shooting 12-13 from the free-throw line.

Pitt had a bit more success than the Eagles at the end of the half, taking a 35-28 lead at the break. Neither team could pull away, though, as both teams kept the pace slow, consuming the shot clock.

The Panthers were the aggressors to start the second half, scoring the first 11 points to bring their lead to 46-28. Pitt’s frontcourt led the run, with four points coming from Rafael Maia, four from Jamel Artis and three from Young.

Artis attributed his team’s assertive nature to its efficiency when pushing the pace.

“We got out in transition, and we didn’t wait for them to set up,” Artis said. “We got the ball up the court and just finished plays.”

Five of the points in the span came from the free throw line, which Artis said was a focus for the offense.

“When a team plays scrappy we just have to attack, get to the rim and make the ref call a foul,” Artis said.

Still, Woods contended that his team didn’t foul as much as what was called, as Morehead State accumulated 25 fouls to Pitt’s 13.

“I didn’t think we were fouling that much,” Woods said. “I don’t think we did any more fouling than they did for the most part.”

Though Pitt wouldn’t quite continue that offensive productivity in the rest of the half, it maintained a sizeable lead. Artis had particular success in the second half, accumulating 17 points after the break. That effort pushed him past Young to be Pitt’s leading scorer, finishing with 22 points off of 6-9 shooting from the field and 10-11 at the free-throw line.

On the other end, Pitt generally stopped Morehead State from generating consistent offensive success, as well as controlling the boards, out-rebounding the Eagles 37-28.

“We wanted to win this game with defense and rebounding, and for the most part we did,” Dixon said.

Pitt will wait another week before playing on Sunday, when it faces off against Davidson College at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York.

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