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Panthers Insider: Defensive deficiencies one of Pitt's problems

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:29 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna has his shot blocked by Duke's Marshall Plumlee during the first half Monday at Petersen Events Center. Pitt managed just 16 points in the paint against a Duke squad which was allowing 33.7 per game inside.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski makes a personnel change against Pitt Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

It was a good-natured exchange, seeing Jamie Dixon could actually laugh and find a light-hearted moment following a difficult defeat.

The Pitt coach insisted defensive breakdowns cost the Panthers in the 80-65 loss to Duke on Monday, redirecting questions about offensive concerns to defensive deficiencies.

“You keep bringing up shots, and I'm afraid that's what our guys were thinking,” Dixon said. “We've got to get stops. The guys who are going to defend are the guys we're going to have out there. I want to make sure of that to our guys.”

Dixon took blame for failing to get the message across to his players, despite a pregame plan that focused on the Blue Devils' outside shooting. Duke had a 52-51 lead before outscoring Pitt, 28-14, in the final 9:41. It made five of its 13 3-pointers in that span — four by Andre Dawkins —shooting 52 percent beyond the arc.

So, about Pitt's shooting...

“You keep talking about offense,” Dixon said, with a smile. “You must be a player. Defensively, you simply put yourself in a hole like that and you've got to score every time down.”

There's no arguing his point. The Panthers allowed Syracuse and Duke to shoot a combined 49.5 percent (49 of 99) in their two ACC losses.

Truth is, these Panthers just aren't a great defensive team, especially not in Pitt's signature man-to-man.

“I think we're a work in progress. I don't think we're where we need to be, there's no doubt about it,” Dixon said. “We're good. There have been some stretches where we've been very good. Our numbers look pretty good, but to beat a really good team when they're making shots and get into a rhythm, you've got to be better, simply. And we weren't.”

Where Dixon was beating himself up over Pitt allowing Duke to score off six inbounds plays, freshman forward Mike Young blamed it on the Panthers making mental mistakes.

“It was simple things, like being slow on hedges or not being there for rushes, and they just got open shots,” Young said. “A lot of open shots lead to a lot of makes.”

Which, finally, brings us back to the offensive end. After the loss to Syracuse, Dixon lamented Pitt's failure to finish through contact.

Against Duke, Pitt got open shots but made only 8 of 21 layups. Talib Zanna, Young, Jamel Artis and Derrick Randall were a combined 3 of 11, as Pitt scored 16 points in the paint against Duke, which was allowing an ACC-worst 33.7 points in the paint.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will take those odds all day, every day.

“We didn't finish well early,” Dixon said. “That was the thing that stood out to me. We've got to finish better. ”

Then, quickly as he could, Dixon went back to discussing defense.

“I think they know we've got to win with defense,” Dixon said. “I'm making that clear to them, but …”

Pitt's failure to finish early paints another picture of its problems.

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