Pitt's Taylor making most of minutes

Pitt's Dante Taylor celebrates after scoring against UConn in the final seconds of the first half Saturday,  Jan. 19, 2013 at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Dante Taylor celebrates after scoring against UConn in the final seconds of the first half Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at Petersen Events Center.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Pitt senior Dante Taylor knew what was expected of him.

After all, when he arrived on Pitt's campus in 2009, he was a McDonald's All-American, the school's first in 22 years. He had a scoring average of 23.8 points at Maryland's National Christian Academy and a reputation as one of the Washington area's best high school players.

The subsequent expectations can be a lot of baggage for a young man of 19 to carry into the Big East, but Taylor dealt with it quietly and efficiently.

“I never paid attention to it,” he said.

Which is probably the chief reason he enters the final games of his Pitt career with no regrets after starting only 20 games — all in 2011-12 — and never averaging six points or five rebounds in any season.

Yet with a clear mind, he has assumed an important role off the Pitt bench, replacing starting freshman center Steven Adams in key moments of games.

In the 69-61 victory against Connecticut on Saturday, Taylor scored six points, with seven rebounds. But in the final four minutes — after UConn had rallied to tie the score at 58 — he dished out the game's biggest assist, grabbed his fifth offensive rebound and hit two free throws and a basket to ensure Pitt's third victory in the past four outings.

“I just tried to step up as a senior,” Taylor said.

Such leadership, if it continues to rise to the surface, will be important for Pitt, which is 15-4 and 3-3 in the Big East going into its game Tuesday at Providence.

“He's really an unselfish kid,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He's really a great teammate, and guys like him. He doesn't care about his individual stats. He just wants to win. He's been around a lot of winning teams, and he wants to continue to do that.”

Taylor's most important contribution was a pass to freshman James Robinson, who turned it into a tie-breaking 3-pointer to give Pitt a lead it never surrendered. In the center of a pick and roll with Lamar Patterson, Taylor took the pass, could have turned and shot, but he spotted Robinson alone deep in the corner.

Later, in a similar situation, he accepted the pass from Tray Woodall and decided to shoot. Those plays became the most important five points of the game's decisive moments.

“I trusted in (Robinson), and (Woodall) trusted in me,” Taylor said.

Dixon, usually judicious with his praise, was enthused.

“I can't say enough about him down the stretch,” Dixon said. “We talked to him about that he may be the guy who gets the catch but not the shot. That's something we're improving on. That was huge for us. We've got to continue to make right decisions at the right time. Those were two very good decisions by Dante at that point.”

Similar decisions will allow Taylor to earn additional playing time and make the most of his senior season. After offering advice to Adams on how to handle expectations, he is now listening to former Panther Nasir Robinson, who attended the Villanova game last week in Philadelphia and was Taylor's house guest over the weekend.

Robinson told Taylor to savor his senior season.

“He told me how fast it's going to go and how much he misses it,” Taylor said.

“It's starting to sink in that it's winding down, so I'm just trying to make the most out of these games. Sooner or later, it's going to be gone.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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