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Albany presents final challenge for Pitt before ACC schedule begins

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Albany's Sam Rowley, right, tries to pass the ball past Duke's Mason Plumlee during the first half of a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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PITT GAMEDAY

vs. Albany

1 p.m

Radio: 93.7 FM

Breakdown: The Great Danes are led by a pair of Australians in 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Peter Hooley (14.5 ppg) and 6-6 junior forward Sam Rowley (13.6). They made their collegiate debuts against Pitt two years ago in an 89-56 loss to the Panthers in November 2011. Pitt also beat Albany, 83-54, in November 2003, and is 12-0 all-time against America East opponents.

Albany (6-6)

Player Pos. Yr. PPG

G DJ Evans 5-9 Sr. 11.3

G Peter Hooley 6-4 So. 14.5

F Sam Rowley 6-6 Jr. 13.6

F Gary Johnson 6-6 Sr. 9.3

C John Puk 6-10 Sr. 7.0

Pitt (11-1)

G Cameron Wright 6-4 Jr. 11.1

G James Robinson 6-3 so. 8.0

F Lamar Patterson 6-5 Sr. 17.1

F Michael Young 6-8 Fr. 6.1

C Talib Zanna 6-9 sr. 12.0

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Jamie Dixon did a double take when four Albany players 6-foot-8 or taller passed him while walking through Petersen Events Center.

The Pitt coach knew that the Great Danes have an international flavor, with four players from Australia, one from Denmark and one from the Republic of Georgia.

What Dixon didn't expect was for Albany's players to appear as tall in person as they are on the roster.

“I'm surprised by their size,” Dixon said. “I saw some of them walking through, and sometimes you see guys listed at 6-8 and they're not really 6-8, but this team looks like it.”

That's a cause for concern for Dixon, who has spent the 10 days between games and past five days of practice drilling it into the Panthers' heads that they must improve their rebounding.

Pitt (11-1) ends its nonconference schedule by playing host to Albany (6-6) at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and the Panthers hope to finish strong before beginning ACC play.

Last year, fourth-seeded Albany became the lowest seed to win the America East title and drew an NCAA Tournament date with Duke.

“We know the program, obviously, and that they were in the NCAA Tournament last year and at the top of the league the last couple of years and expected to be there again,” Dixon said. “They're older, bigger ... very good offensively, very sound, very fundamentally schooled, and they do a good job of getting the ball to the guy they want to shoot the ball.”

Dixon said Pitt treated its down time as a “boot camp,” using drills to focus on defensive communication and rebounding, specifically on blocking out to prevent second-chance scoring.

That was a problem in the Panthers' 44-43 loss to Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic, when Pitt was beaten 35-27 on the boards and gave up 16 offensive rebounds.

The problem persisted in a 73-56 victory over Cal Poly, which grabbed 11 of its 28 rebounds on offense. So it became a major point of emphasis in ensuing practices.

“We didn't feel we played well our last two games going into Christmas break,” Dixon said, “and I think we recognized that and our guys recognized that, and they came back trying to do something about it.”

That begins with Albany, a mid-major matchup before starting ACC play Saturday at North Carolina State.

“High-major or mid-major, you just can't take guys for granted,” Pitt redshirt sophomore swingman Durand Johnson said.

“We've got to play hard no matter who we play. They've got a bunch of good players who can make shots and create for their teammates. I think it's going to be a good game and a good test for us to lead us into ACC play.”

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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