Jamie Dixon refrained from using his team’s youth as an excuse in the first couple of months of the season. Even though Dixon was starting two freshmen, he also had a fifth-year senior in the backcourt and two fourth-year juniors in his lineup. The Panthers weren’t exactly the most experienced team in the nation, but they certainly weren’t the youngest.
After half a season of using his veterans in prominent roles, Dixon has begun to play his more inexperienced players more minutes.
In the 58-43 victory at Villanova Wednesday night, Dixon continued to start freshmen Steven Adams and James Robinson, and he also played a couple of other first-year players in extensive roles.
*Redshirt freshman reserve Durand Johnson garnered more minutes than junior starter Lamar Patterson at small forward. Johnson scored 13 points in 23 minutes while Patterson scored five in 18 minutes.
*Junior Trey Zeigler, in his first season with the team after transferring from Central Michigan, played 25 minutes. Dixon had been using third-year sophomore Cameron Wright as his top reserve at guard, but opted for Zeigler against the Wildcats and played Wright just one minute.
*Senior Dante Taylor played just 13 minutes and junior forward J.J. Moore 15 minutes.
It appears at the moment that Dixon believes his young players give the Panthers the best chance of winning and is willing to allow them to play through their mistakes. Dixon gave every indication after the game that Zeigler and Johnson will continue to play major minutes.
“You’re talking about two new guys who went through growing pains,” Dixon said of Zeigler and Johnson. “Hopefully, they’re making steps. You talk about the four new guys – Steven, James, Trey and Durand…those are four guys playing significant minutes. This was a big step in that direction for both of those guys.”
Pitt has now won its past two road games by 28 and 15 points. The freshmen and Zeigler played big roles in both wins.
“Road wins are hard to come by,” Dixon said. “We’ve had two of those and there aren’t that many of those going around in our conference. We have to go back and play the way we’ve been playing on the road.
“We’re right there. We lost a couple of close games. I think we’re a good team. I think we’re getting better. These four new guys…I haven’t spoken of youth. We’ve said we need to be the team we want to be right away. It hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully this is a big step for us.”
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