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Slow starts persist for Pitt basketball team

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, 10:48 p.m.
Ken Ruinard | Anderson Daily Mail
Pitt's Michael Young dunks two of his 25 points against Clemson on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.

Pitt junior Michael Young finally addressed a problem that has existed for nearly two months with no apparent end in sight.

As the team's leading scorer — as well as a team leader — Young unveiled his feelings about the Panthers' slow starts following Wednesday's 73-60 loss at Clemson.

For the third consecutive game, the Panthers trailed by double digits at halftime. Against Clemson the deficit was 40-26, after similar halftime deficits against Florida State (43-33) and N.C. State (44-19).

Two of those three games resulted in losses for the Panthers (16-4, 5-3), who resume ACC action at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against Virginia Tech (12-9, 4-4) at Petersen Events Center.

“It's three games straight,” said Young, the only Pitt player to play well in both halves against Clemson, scoring 11 points in the first half and 14 points in the second half to equal his season high of 25 points.

“We've been talking about it. Even when we were winning, we were talking about it,” continued Young, who also leads the team in rebounding. “We had this talk for the Purdue game (a 72-59 loss Dec. 1 when the Panthers fell behind early) about having better starts.

“We come out slow, methodical. The other team is really getting after it.”

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has his own theory about the slow starts.

“We had leads early in the first half,” he said. “It's not like you're not ready to play. That blows that theory.”

The Panthers hit four of their first seven shots against Clemson to build a 10-7 lead but shot 7 of 20 the rest of the half.

“We've had leads. And then they've made runs the second part of the first half,” Dixon said. “Are we ready to play? We're up, so I don't know if we weren't ready for the last 10 minutes and we were ready for the first 10 minutes.”

Young said Dixon's message isn't reaching some players.

“We're coming out playing like we know we're going to win. When the second half starts, we play like we want to win,” Young said. “I tell my guys, the way we play in the second half, we've got to play in the first half.

“We've got to come out and get (defensive) stops early. Right now, at the start of games, we're trying to let our offense dictate how the game is going to go.”

The Panthers outscored their opponent in the second half in each of those three games.

“Everybody's got to look at themselves in the mirror like, ‘It's not my offense that's going to get it done. It's my defense,' ” Young said. “Once everybody has that mindset as a team, we'll start playing better defense.

“Right now, if one guy is in the mindset of ‘My offense is going to get me going versus my defense,' it brings the whole team down.”

During one stretch in the first half, Clemson connected on 8 of 11 field goals.

“Simply put,” Dixon said, “we're not defending well.”

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

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