PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — It’s hard to imagine where these Panthers would be without senior guard Tray Woodall, and after his performance in The City Game, fans would much rather not find out.
They’re probably relieved by the way karma was inverted when Woodall stepped onto the parquet at CONSOL Energy Center this time. A year ago, lower-body injuries incurred against Duquesne deprived Pitt’s offense of perhaps its most capable player for significant time, and the effects couldn’t have been much more evident.
Instead, Woodall, on this particular December weeknight, paced the Panthers with a season-best 24 points in yet another double-digit win over the Dukes, including five three-pointers, which tied a season high.
“It might have been the best game he’s played. I thought he played good defense too. He played good help-defense, which is really the thing that we need most from him,” head coach Jamie Dixon said after the victory. “We have a lot of guys that can score, but I think that he really took good shots, and he made some good plays at the end of the game too.”
Whatever has gotten into Woodall, it’s contagious, and that’s a good thing, as the Panthers’ hot outside shooters try to make their way through cold season with a fourth straight win when they take on North Florida at 7:00 P.M. at the Petersen Events Center tonight.
Pitt shot 9-of 17 (52.9%) behind the arc Wednesday. It marked its third consecutive game burying at least eight threes, and the fourth time in the last five that had happened. During their winning streak the Panthers, as a team, have shot 46% from three-point distance, and Woodall, individually, has scored in double figures in all but two games thus far.
“I have gotten consistent hours in the gym. Early on in my career, I knew I wasn’t going to shoot many shots. I didn’t work on many things because I knew I wasn’t going to shoot much. Now I take a lot more shots and I want to make sure I shoot a lot more in my workouts,” Woodall said Wednesday. “I try to make sure I’m ready to knock down shots and make sure my body is in shape to do it consistently.”
Furthermore, the Panthers, with his leadership, have been finding good looks for junior forward Lamar Patterson, who enters Saturday with a three-point shooting clip of 52.1% (12-of-23) during Pitt’s winning streak, and Woodall has been meshing well with fellow guard and newcomer James Robinson.
“He’s always played off the ball in some plays, he’s always knew both positions. It’s not as big of a deal, but speaking to the whole thing, his attitude and commitment to having a great senior year has been exactly what you want out of a fifth-year senior,” said Dixon of Woodall, who has shuffled between point guard and shooting guard upon Robinson’s arrival.
He’s also been taking care of the ball, and, in doing so, has apparently made quite an impression on Robinson. Pitt is among the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio entering Saturday, and Robinson contributed seven helpers against just one turnover Wednesday.
Tonight’s game, despite the relative anonymity of the opponent, could be a barometer for how dangerous this backcourt can be. The Ospreys, under Bellevue native Matt Driscoll, rank eighth nationally in three-point field goal defense (22.9% allowed).
“I’ve seen Tray play in Brooklyn. I’m happy for him and the fact that he has accepted the role of playing off the ball is great and he is doing a fantastic job,” first-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry affirmed. “Now he is a threat.”
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)