Pitt notebook: Increased workload suits freshman Newkirk
Josh Newkirk's biggest problem is experience.
Fortunately for Pitt, the freshman guard found a way Saturday to set that aside long enough for Pitt to defeat Virginia Tech, 62-57, in double overtime and avoid an embarrassing upset at Petersen Events Center.
Newkirk played a season-high 27 minutes as the third guard and scored 11 points, his best effort since getting that many Nov. 8 in the opener against Savannah State.
“Josh was a big factor again today for us,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “He is the guy who continues to improve as a freshman.”
Newkirk's contribution was important to a team for which bench production has fallen off since the injury to Durand Johnson. Newkirk and Jamel Artis (one point) combined for 12 points. Non-starters totaled 15 last Sunday in the loss to Virginia.
With Lamar Patterson going without a field goal until the second overtime, Newkirk noticed the urgency of the situation.
“We just had to step up and pick up where he he left off,” said Newkirk, who scored on a pivotal breakaway dunk in the second half. “You just have to be ready to contribute and bring energy off the bench.”
Newkirk made plays early and late, hitting a three-point shot in the first half and 3 of 4 foul shots in the second overtime to ensure the victory. He had made only one in 10 tries in the season's previous 23 games.
Newkirk's minutes came at the expense of power forward Michael Young, who is seven inches taller at 6-foot-8. Young scored only four points with no rebounds in 27 minutes. With Young out of the game, Patterson moved to power forward while Dixon used a three-guard offense.
“While we would like to be a little bit bigger on the perimeter,” he said, “I think (Newkirk) does other things to make up for it.”
Montour graduate Devin Wilson, who has started all 23 games as a freshman point guard for Virginia Tech, was involved in many of the most important plays of the game and finished with 10 points. He scored in double digits for the fifth time in the past eight games.
Wilson hit a layup with 3:03 to go in the second half, which was Virginia Tech's only field goal in the final 13 minutes. But about 83 seconds later he was called for traveling while trying to protect a two-point lead.
He also missed two shots in the last 15 seconds of the second overtime and had one of his season-high seven turnovers in the first overtime.
He said he felt no extra pressure with several friends and family members in attendance.
“Some shots didn't fall, some layups didn't fall. That's going to happen anywhere, not just in your hometown,” he said.
Wilson, who said Pitt never recruited him seriously, liked the fight shown by his team after losing the previous nine games in a row, including the past four by 20 or more points.
“We showed a lot of heart today, which was one thing in the last couple games we just didn't seem like we had,” he said.
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson is pleased with Wilson's progress.
“He's tough and he's a winner, which is what we are trying to build on,” he said.
Pitt played back-to-back overtime games for the first time since 1998 when the Panthers defeated Rutgers, 86-85, Jan. 17 and lost to St. John's, 90-83, five days later.
The Panthers won't practice Sunday after playing 135 minutes in seven days and winning two of three games.
Pitt's 13th consecutive 20-victory season comes with an asterisk. The Panthers were 16-15 in the regular season of 2011-2012, but finished 22-17 after going 1-1 in the Big East Tournament and winning five of six games to win the College Basketball Invitational championship.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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