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No. 20 Pitt focuses on perimeter against Terrapins

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 11:42 p.m.

Nineteen days ago, Pitt defeated Maryland, 79-59, in the first ACC game played at Petersen Events Center. From the outside, it appeared the Panthers barely broke a sweat in trouncing the Terrapins.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows otherwise.

Reinforcing his message from the first game, Dixon instructed his players this week to concentrate on stopping Maryland's 3-point shooters in Saturday's 6 p.m. rematch at Comcast Center.

Maryland forward Evan Smotrycz, in particular, concerns Dixon after the junior forward hit 4 of his 11 3-point attempts at Pitt.

Dixon, however, is confident the No. 20 Panthers (17-2, 5-1) will defend better in their second meeting against Maryland.

The Terrapins (11-8, 3-3) are among four teams Pitt will face twice in its inaugural ACC campaign, along with Syracuse (Feb. 12), N.C. State (March 3) and Clemson (March 8).

“Guarding the 3 is a main priority for us,” Dixon said. “(Maryland's) dangerous because of the way they shoot the ball. I think I said after the game about them shooting 3s, our guys being surprised by some of their bigger guys. Smotrycz shot a couple of 3s early.

“Our younger guys, we kept drilling them, talking, reinforcing they're going to shoot it from 3, they're going to shoot it from deep, guarded, unguarded. Hopefully, we're a better defensive team now than we were then.”

Sophomore guard James Robinson said Pitt's defense can improve the second time around against Maryland, which shot only 35 percent (20 of 56) in their first meeting, including 8 of 25 from 3-point range.

“I think we've gotten better since we played them,” said Robinson, who's second on the team in assists and third in steals. “We know their perimeter players can shoot the ball. Just be ready to defend.”

Robinson said the Panthers are prepared for Maryland's new starting lineup. Sophomore guard Seth Allen, who came off the bench in the first meeting, replaces freshman Roddy Peters.

“That's something we're going to have to make a little adjustment on,” Robinson said. “(Allen's) more in attack mode. He can score the ball, and he creates plays for others. Just try to keep him in front of us and play good help defense.”

Dixon is encouraged by the continued improvement of his defense, particularly how his younger players have caught on.

The quickest way to the bench in Dixon's system is a lack of attentiveness on defense.

“We have six new guys of the 10 that we're playing,” Dixon said. “Every game has to be a new lesson to us, win or lose.

“It was only four games ago that we played (Maryland), but it seems like they've gone through a lot of different things in that time. I think we've grown and, hopefully, understand.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib

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