Pitt basketball notebook: Lineup change backfires for Panthers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tinkered with the starting lineup, only to see the move backfire when Rutgers made a corresponding tweak to its backcourt.
Dixon replaced freshman James Robinson with redshirt sophomore Cameron Wright. The intention, Dixon said, was to use Wright as a defensive stopper against Carter and to spread out Robinson's minutes.
One problem: Carter didn't start for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights were leading, 15-5, by the time Carter was inserted into the game at 14:57 of the first half. By then, the Panthers already had made a mass substitution that included Robinson, who defended Carter anyway.
Wright finished scoreless and picked up four personal fouls in 15 minutes. Robinson had four points, one rebound, five assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes.
“Cam has been playing better in practice,” said Dixon, who said the move was made for a “variety” of reasons. “We've got to find a way. We've got to get the right group. I know it's there. I believe we can be the team we want to be, but you can't dig a hole like this.”
Rice said the plan wasn't for Carter, who entered the game as the Scarlet Knights' leading scorer at 17.1 points, to come off the bench, but “Eli helped me out with some violations of team rules, nothing serious.”
Rice might consider bringing Carter off the bench more, considering he scored a game-high 23 points in 31 minutes.
“I'm going to have to look at it more because he does add a scoring punch and Jerome (Seagears) gave us defensive toughness on the floor,” Rice said. “I really wish I could say we thought hard about it and studied it and crunched the numbers, but no, it was just a minor rule violation.”
Tale of two halves
The back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers to start Big East play left Pitt trying to figure out how to piece together a complete game.
“I definitely think we're going to turn it around. It's right there. We've got to stick it out both halves,” senior center Dante Taylor said. “We always come out one half and do not so great in the next half, and the next half we do good.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 34-26 halftime lead in a 70-61 loss to Cincinnati Dec. 31 at Petersen Events Center. The reverse was true for Rutgers, which held a 39-25 halftime advantage. Pitt outscored Rutgers, 37-28, in the second half.
“We responded in the second half. We played better,” Dixon said. “It's hard to come back from a 15-point deficit, but we got it down pretty quick. … I guess when you put yourself in a hole you have very little margin for error.”
Redshirt freshman Durand Johnson scored eight points off the bench, although six came on buzzer beaters. He banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to beat the shot clock with 4:23 remaining in the second half, then drained a long 3 just before the final horn sounded. … Instead of returning to campus, Pitt will spend three days in Washington, D.C., to prepare for its game against Georgetown at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Verizon Center. … Taylor did not travel to Washington with the Panthers, instead going to attend funeral services for his grandfather. Taylor is expected to return in time to play against Georgetown.