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Pitt men's basketball team trying to reverse trend of slow starts

| Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, 9:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
North Carolina State's Abdul-Malki Abu dunks against Pitt in the second half Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, at Petersen Events Center.

In an impressive wire-to-wire victory at Notre Dame, Pitt jumped out to a 13-0 lead and never looked back.

The Panthers were aggressive and locked in at both ends of the court. Their fast start provided just enough of a cushion to hold off a late Notre Dame rally.

Since that game, however, the Panthers have been slow out of the starting gate, bracketing losses to No. 17 Louisville and N.C. State around a win over Boston College.

The Panthers understand they can ill afford another slow start at Florida State on Saturday in the first of two consecutive ACC road games.

“It starts with pregame,” junior Jamel Artis said. “Don't come out lackadaisical and don't overlook any team.”

That may have been the case in a 78-61 loss to visiting N.C. State, a talented, yet underachieving opponent that entered the contest 0-5 in the ACC.

Pitt has lost four consecutive games to N.C. State, but the Panthers said they didn't open Tuesday's game with the necessary level of urgency.

“We've got to come out and hit them in the first five minutes,” Artis said. “I don't think we overlooked them. We just came out very slow.”

It has become a familiar, unsettling pattern for the Panthers (15-3, 4-2), who lost two of their past three games by an average of 17.5 points.

Following the 86-82 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 9, the Panthers fell behind early in each of their next three games.

They trailed Louisville, 20-17, at intermission, fell behind Boston College, 10-2, and, in their most recent game, were outscored 25-6 in the opening 10 minutes and trailed 44-19 at halftime.

“You can't put yourself in the situation being down 25,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “That set the tone and made it really almost an impossibility to come back.”

Against Boston College, arguably the worst team in the ACC, the Panthers regrouped and took control.

It was more difficult for the Panthers to overcome slow starts against Louisville and N.C. State, teams with imposing frontlines and more talented rosters.

Trailing N.C. State by as many as 28 points in the first half, the Panthers sliced the deficit down to 68-57 with 1 minute 22 seconds remaining.

“The ACC is tough. You definitely can lose on any given night,” said junior Michael Young, who leads the Panthers in scoring. “That's what the ACC is about. You've got to come out ready, no matter who the opponent is.

“We've got to play hard the first five minutes.”

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

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