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Pitt's physicality on defense makes impression on ACC

AP
Pitt's Cameron Wright (3), James Robinson (0) and Michael Young (right) struggle for possession of the ball with N.C. State's T.J. Warren during the first half Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C.

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Pitt professed all along that it wouldn't have to adapt to the ACC as much as the league would have to adjust to playing against the physicality of the Panthers.

So, it should come as no surprise that the recurring theme following Pitt's victories over N.C. State and Maryland was its toughness.

“They were tougher than our team was, period,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said after Pitt's 74-62 victory Saturday in Raleigh, N.C. “They defended us tougher than we defended them. They got after loose balls, they pushed the ball on the break. And we did not respond.”

Gottfried called it a “tough lesson to learn.”

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon echoed those sentiments after a 79-59 loss Monday at Petersen Events Center, noting the difficulty of driving the lane against Pitt caused his players to stray for perimeter shots.

“If you drive, you're going to get bumped,” Turgeon said. “They're going to reach in. A lot of times, they strip it or hit you. So I do think that we settled for too many jump shots, which was disappointing.”

Gottfried called the Panthers' ability to strip the ball out of an opponent's hands or diving onto the floor for a loose ball, which resulted in fast-break opportunities and points off turnovers, “part of being tougher with the basketball.”

That, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said, has become Pitt's trademark the same way the 2-3 zone defense is associated with Syracuse.

“They've always had that toughness approach,” Vitale said. “I think it started with Ben Howland and passed on to Jamie (Dixon), that physical approach and mental toughness that they bring every day. You're really going to have to compete to get good shots against them.

“There are certain programs that get certain labels that help them big-time psychologically. … The mindset is where you're at a negative before you ever start playing, and I think that Pittsburgh has that, that label of being tough.”

And if that trademark toughness takes its toll on their opponents?

Well, that's just tough.

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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