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Transfer Smith springs loose for Pitt men

| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, 8:33 p.m.
Pitt's Sterling Smith

Sterling Smith said he wasn't holding back.

Honest.

Smith attempted four shots and scored a total of six points in Pitt's previous three games entering Saturday's ACC matchup at Florida State.

Smith let loose against the Seminoles, surpassing his shot and point totals against N.C. State, Boston College and Louisville combined. He shot 4 of 10 (including 4 of 8 3-pointers) and scored 16 points in the Panthers' 74-72 win in Tallahassee, Fla.

“I let the game come to me,” Smith said.

Smith insisted coach Jamie Dixon didn't instruct him to attempt more shots — or else.

Dixon indicated prior to the Florida State game he was giving more consideration to pairing senior point guard James Robinson in the backcourt with freshman Damon Wilson.

Wilson, however, logged only three minutes against Florida State while Smith played 29 minutes and junior Chris Jones added five points in 14 minutes off the bench.

The 29 minutes equaled a season-high for Smith, who has started every game this season and averages 22.6 minutes.

Although playing one of his finest games since arriving at Pitt, the Coppin State transfer insisted his approach never wavered when he attempted more shots.

“They left me open,” Smith said. “I practice (shooting) every day.”

Unlike previous games, however, Smith became more aggressive when Florida State clamped down early on juniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young — the Panthers' two leading scorers.

The high-scoring pair combined to score nine points on 4 of 16 shooting in the first half.

“(Smith) brings a lot,” Artis said. “He can hit shots, and he can rebound. Sterling hitting shots and being vocal and also being aggressive on defense helps our team.”

Smith scored 11 of his season-high matching 16 points in the first half for the Panthers (16-3, 5-2), who visit Clemson (12-7, 5-2) on Wednesday.

“We needed to score,” Smith said. “Definitely big shots I hit.”

Smith became more of a cheerleader in the second half, encouraging Artis and Young to continue shooting.

Artis and Young combined for 20 points in the second half when Smith played more of a complementary role, attempting only three shots.

“Some shots weren't falling. I kept telling them to keep shooting,” Smith said. “Eventually, they were going to fall.”

Smith said the Panthers never stopped believing. Even when they trailed, 43-33, at halftime and faced a 59-51 deficit with 9:41 remaining.

“We had to dig down deep,” Smith said. “We had to show we were a tough team. People were questioning if we really had that toughness and that heart. We had to come out and show in the second half that we really do.”

John Harris is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jharris_trib.

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