For Pitt men’s basketball team, trouble in paradise |

For Pitt men’s basketball team, trouble in paradise

Bryan Berkowitz | For Trib Total Media
Pitt's Josh Newkirk (right) defends Hawaii's Roderick Bobbitt on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, in Maui, Hawaii.

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Tropical temperatures and humidity offer the perfect backdrop for Pitt’s preparation for the Maui Invitational beginning Monday at Lahaina Civic Center.

If their surprising 74-70 loss early Saturday morning to Hawaii is any indication, the Panthers’ upcoming practices should feature plenty of running, hard work and sweat as coach Jamie Dixon attempts to instill a defensive mindset with his players.

So far, Dixon’s play-defense-or-perish message doesn’t appear to be getting through.

Hawaii shot 52.9 percent and repeatedly dialed up open looks down the stretch. With Pitt holding a 58-55 lead midway through the second half, Hawaii staggered the Panthers with a late 16-6 run, scoring inside and outside at will.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Dixon said after Pitt’s four-point loss. “We don’t seem to be able to stop people when we need to.”

When have you heard Dixon, an advocate for strong defensive play, say that about one of his teams?

It’s only three games into the season, but Dixon’s frustration is evident with a starting lineup featuring three new starters and three sophomores who still are figuring out what he wants at the defensive end.

“It’s not an excuse,” said junior point guard James Robinson, who is entering his third season as a starter. “We have young guys with not a lot of experience, but it comes down to execution. They executed better than us down the stretch. The amount of days we had to practice, to have a showing like this hurts.”

Pitt’s interior defense deteriorated against Hawaii to the point Dixon inserted freshman and former Hampton star Ryan Luther, who missed the first two games with a foot injury and was a candidate to be redshirted. Luther scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in nine second-half minutes, but he also showed his inexperience, which is to be expected from a player making his college debut.

Junior Joseph Uchebo started the first three games at center, with senior Derrick Randall coming in as first reserve. The pair played a total of 13 minutes against Hawaii, combining for two points and one rebound, all from Uchebo.

“We’re getting beat and scored on in the post,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to find a post defender and do something about it.”

The Panthers (2-1) face Division II opponent and tournament host Chaminade (2-0) on Monday night.

“We’ve got a lot to learn in a short period of time based on (losing to Hawaii),” Robinson said. “We have to come out ready to execute. That’s what we base a lot of our performance on: defense. We didn’t get it done.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].

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