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Pitt keeps opponents' shooting in check

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt's Tray Woodall blocks the second half shot of DePaul's Worrel Clahar at Petersen Events Center Jan. 26, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

After C.J. Fair and Fuquan Edwin scored almost at will against Pitt, it might seem a stretch to talk about the Panthers delivering dominant defensive efforts.

Yet Syracuse and Seton Hall represented games in which the Panthers held foes to fewer than 40-percent shooting from the field and fewer than 60 points.

The Orange shot 36.7 percent in scoring 55 points, and the Pirates shot 33.3 percent in scoring 46. It was Seton Hall's lowest point total in the 53-game series with Pitt.

Where Jamie Dixon has long touted rebounding as the secret to Pitt's success, it is usually followed by the role defense plays in the Panthers' Big East victories.

“We did it with rebounding, and we did it with defense,” Dixon said Monday night after a 56-46 win over Seton Hall, “and that's what we wanted to do.”

It should come as no surprise that Pitt ranks first in the Big East in scoring defense (54.5), scoring margin (plus-16.9) and rebounding defense (27.5).

The Panthers have lost all three conference games in which they were outrebounded — to Cincinnati, Rutgers and Marquette — and have won all five league games in which opponents made fewer than 40 percent of their shots.

Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall believes the defensive lockdown mentality, combined with improved rebounding, has sparked the Panthers to win six of their past seven.

“I think guys are a lot more committed defensively,” Woodall said. “The biggest change has been our rebounding. It's no coincidence that the games we outrebound teams we come out with the win.”

The Panthers (19-5, 7-4 Big East) have won all 15 games in which they have held opponents to fewer than 60 points. That includes five league wins, as Georgetown (45), Villanova (43) and Seton Hall (46) finished with fewer than 50 points, and DePaul and Syracuse both had 55.

Fair made 9 of his 13 shots (69.2 percent) in scoring 20 points, but the rest of the Orange was 9 of 36 (25 percent). Guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche combined to shoot 24.1 percent (7 of 29).

“They're a tremendous defensive team,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Pitt. “We know that we're going to have trouble scoring against them. ... We struggled to score, no question about that.”

The same was true with Seton Hall. Edwin made 7 of 16 shots (43.8 percent), but the rest of the Pirates were 7 of 26 (26.9).

Dixon was particularly proud of how the Panthers played defense and rebounded in the final seven minutes, after Seton Hall cut it to 42-41.

The Pirates made only 1 of 7 field goals — missing five 3-point attempts — as Edwin scored Seton Hall's only basket at the 4:33 mark. Pitt grabbed 10 of its 40 boards in that span to seal the win.

“We got some big defensive stops at the end,” Dixon said, “and came up with the rebounds.”

This time, their importance came in that order.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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