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Pitt pins its chances of beating No. 1 Syracuse on rebounding margin

| Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Duke's MAmile Jefferson battles Pitt's Derrick Randall and Lamar Patterson for a rebound during the first half Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 at Petersen Events Center.

Jim Boeheim called it the first game of the season in which rebounding would have been the determining factor for Syracuse if not for the plays point guard Tyler Ennis made in the final two minutes.

For Pitt, its 59-54 loss to Syracuse on Jan. 18 at Carrier Dome marked a last for the Panthers: After beating the Orange, 35-24, on the boards, including 16 on the offensive end, they haven't owned a double-digit edge in rebounding margin in the six games since.

When top-ranked Syracuse (23-0, 10-0) plays No. 25 Pitt (20-4, 8-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Petersen Events Center, beating the Orange on the boards will be one of the Panthers' top priorities.

“We've got to do a better job attacking the zone and a better job defending them to get a win this time,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “But we did rebound well, and we have to get back to rebounding like we were against them the first time. That's the biggest thing that's concerning me right now, is our rebound numbers. I think there are some reasons for it, but we've got to get those addressed and take care of it.”

Defense and rebounding have been the building blocks of Pitt's program under Dixon. Yet the Panthers have pinpointed the latter as an issue after they were outrebounded in each of the past four games, including a minus-15 margin (43-28) wSunday against Virginia Tech.

It hasn't helped that senior center Talib Zanna has been hobbled by an ankle injury, that senior swingman Lamar Patterson has been bothered by a thumb injury, that freshman power forward Mike Young is coming off his first game without a rebound and backup centers Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo have seen only single-digit minutes of playing time.

Dixon demands a plus-10 margin from his Panthers.

“The thing that sticks out to me is the rebounding part,” Dixon said. “We're not getting it done in that area. Talib's not where we want him to be — and I've got to play some of the other big guys, too. That's something I've recognized, as well.”

After leading the ACC in rebounding earlier this season, Pitt has dropped to second in rebounding margin (plus-6.5). The Panthers have been outrebounded by an average margin of 6.8 the past four games, giving up 17 offensive boards to Miami and Virginia Tech.

“We normally don't lose on the glass,” Pitt shooting guard Cameron Wright said. “You've just got to go out and do it.”

Pitt knows that its loss to Syracuse can be traced to two driving layups by Ennis in the final 1:48 to erase a four-point deficit, and the Panthers believe that if they can beat Syracuse on the backboards, it can beat the Orange on the scoreboard, as well.

“I'm real confident,” Patterson said. “We want another shot at them. We thought we let one go up there.”

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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