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Pitt

Pitt coach Dixon lauds Artis' awakening in victory over Syracuse

| Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, 10:24 p.m.
Pitt's Jamel Artis plays Syracuse on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jamel Artis plays Syracuse on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, at Petersen Events Center.

Entering the season, Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon envisioned a role for junior forward Jamel Artis similar to the one held by former Panthers standout Sam Young.

Like he did with Young, Dixon wanted to expand Artis' total game, offensively and defensively, and was hopeful of a breakthrough this year.

That breakthrough occurred during the second half of Pitt's 72-61 win over Syracuse.

And no, it wasn't because Artis led all players in scoring.

Dixon was impressed by Artis' emotional plea for the Panthers to play better defense and stop a potential comeback.

“Just showing emotion and leadership,” Dixon said. “I talked to him afterward and mentioned that to him.”

The Panthers (11-1) face Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-12) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Petersen Events Center in their final nonconference game.

Already a legitimate scoring threat, Artis — who totaled 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Panthers' ACC opener three days ago — displayed another side to his game.

Artis won over Dixon, who's not easily impressed, because he emphasized defense.

It's quite a transformation for Artis, who was named ACC Player of the Week on Monday.

“There was a play after we scored in the second half where (Artis) was pleading with the players to get a stop defensively,” Dixon said. “That's not a guy that usually does that.”

Dixon announced before the season that playing time would be contingent on defensive performance.

The message was delivered to every player, but it appeared to be directed toward Artis, whose defense at times last year left something to be desired.

Artis, in fact, did not start in the Panthers' exhibition game against Gannon. He has started every game since.

During a 30-second exchange with reporters following the Syracuse win, Artis referred to the Panthers defense in response to three questions.

When asked about his offensive prowess, Artis quickly changed the subject to how the Panthers rebuffed Syracuse on multiple possessions.

Syracuse missed six consecutive shots down the stretch and converted only 2 of its last 11 field goals as the Panthers overcame a late deficit.

“It was crucial that we got stops,” Artis said. “That's what it came down to.”

Dixon was eager to promote Artis' late-game exchange with teammates, even more than him nearly recording a triple-double.

“That's the vision I have in my head,” Dixon said.

“That's going to take us a long way, more than the stats. That's what we need out of him. We need him to show emotion. If he shows that, that means that's important.”

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

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