Terrell Brown's defense making difference for Pitt basketball
There might be times Terrell Brown appears to be looking in one direction while the basketball is headed somewhere else when Pitt is playing defense.
Be assured, Pitt’s 6-foot-10 sophomore center is not day-dreaming, although he doesn’t mind if the other team thinks that’s the case. He knows exactly what he’s doing and what’s happening on the court.
“I have a tendency to hunt down shots,” he said. “I bait my opponent into shooting the ball, just so I can get the block.”
So far, Brown’s surreptitious behavior has produced 29 blocks, third in the ACC, in 14 games.
Last season, he totaled 46 blocks in 31 games.
“I don’t like to talk about last year that much,” he said.
But he admits there’s a different “vibe or feeling” around the team, and his play on the defensive end is a big reason for it.
Much has changed within Pitt (10-4, 0-1 ACC) over the past 10 months, but nothing as dramatically as the way the Panthers play defense. Blocks are up an average of one per game (3.5 to 4.5) and steals have increased from 4.3 to 7.4.
Brown smiled when he was asked to explain.
“We have two-hour practices and at least a half hour is defense,” he said. “Defense is a big part of our identity because we’re athletic. We’re long. We can get out (on the fast break). We can run. We’re faster.”
Junior Malik Ellison, who didn’t play last year as a transfer but practiced every day, said it’s a case of increased athleticism among the players and this:
“We’re playing harder,” he said. “That’s coach (Jeff) Capel’s biggest thing: effort and energy.”
With Pitt starting four guards and Brown sharing the center position with junior Kene Chukwuka, Pitt must get up and down the court faster than the opponent because the Panthers won’t score based on size. Brown and Chukwuka (6-9, 225) are the only players taller than 6-6.
Good defense often can be traced to desire and increased physicality. Brown said he’s no bigger than a year ago, but “I feel bigger. I feel more explosive.”
He credits part of his new feeling to extra work in the weight room with strength coach Garry Christopher.
“I didn’t do that last year,” he said.
The extra strength pays off when he launches himself toward an opponent’s shot.
“This year, this team, we thrive on defense,” Brown said. “That’s what gets us going on the offensive end. We need to get fast buckets.”
The increased emphasis on defense hit a roadblock Saturday when No. 12 North Carolina scored 85 points, the most by a Pitt opponent this season. Still, it was 4.9 below the Tar Heels’ per-game average.
“That’s our identity, defense and our toughness,” Ellison said. “We want to be able to keep teams under 70 points. When we are at our best is when we are playing good defense.”
Statistically, Pitt is playing better defense, allowing only 63.9 points per game, which is fifth in the ACC and 33rd in the nation. That’s 8.5 points fewer than last season, but it’s too early for a fair comparison. Pitt has played only one ACC game.
The conference gauntlet Pitt must run through resumes Wednesday at Petersen Events Center against Louisville, one of only two unranked opponents the Panthers will play in six games through Jan. 22. It’s also the first of three games in six days.
“The league is unforgiving,” Capel said. “But that’s how you grow up, playing against the best.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.