Men’s Basketball: Pitt tournament play begins at Petersen Events Center


By Nates Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt basketball begins play in its first tournament of the season Sunday, as the Howard Bison visit the Petersen Events Center for the second consecutive year.

No, this tournament doesn’t carry the same implications as the ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament held later in the season, but the Legends Classic is one head coach Jamie Dixon and the Panthers look forward to, nonetheless.

“We signed up for the Legends, which is one of the best ones,” Dixon said. “It’s Brooklyn. It’s national TV. It’s all of the things we want to be a part of.”

After Pitt plays Howard Sunday and Lehigh Wednesday, play shifts to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the tournament’s semi-final and final games. But to make it there, the Panthers (2-0) must first beat the Bison (2-1) Sunday.

Pitt enters the game off a 75-54 victory against Fresno State in which the Panthers used a zone defense to hold the Bulldogs to 37.3 percent shooting, but Dixon acknowledged that improvements could be made to the defensive scheme.

“Against the zone, obviously they attacked the high post,” Dixon said. “Once in a while they’re going to get it in there, but it didn’t seem that we adjusted well enough or understood.”

Freshman guard Josh Newkirk shouldered some of the blame and said he learned a good deal about his role in the zone defense from watching film in recent days.

“In the zone, I really wasn’t comfortable with where I was supposed to be,” Newkirk said. “So I learned a lot in the zone, just covering the middle and getting out to the shooters.”

In the post, Talib Zanna, Derrick Randall and Mike Young put forth another excellent performance on the glass. The trio combined for 25 of Pitt’s 48 rebounds, and together they accounted for the same number of boards pulled in by the Bulldogs.

As always, the Panthers hope to exploit the rebounding advantage.

“We’re trying to do this from nonconference to conference,” Randall said. “Me, Talib and Mike, we’re just trying to rebound the best.”

So far, players like Randall and Zanna have been the largest on the floor against an undersized Savannah State team and a Fresno State team that is missing its largest player due to injury.

“It does help,” Randall said. “We do have a little bit of an advantage, but we’re trying to do this every game.”

Pitt’s frontcourt will face more size against Howard in the forms of 6-foot-10 Marcel Boyd and 6-foot-9 Oliver Ellison. The pair lead the Bison in rebounding at seven and six boards per game, respectively.

In terms of the Panthers offense, Dixon looks to see more improvement around the basket.

“We missed a lot of layups. We had good drives, good execution and we didn’t finish,” Dixon said. “The main thing offensively is finishing, going up strong and drawing contact.”