PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — He may not have equaled his season-high point total from the consolation round of the NIT Tip-Off tournament, but I believe I can say, without much fear of contradiction, that freshman center Steven Adams played his best game in a Pitt uniform against Duquesne.
Adams concluded with eight points, two blocks, and a career-best 14 boards in a 66-45 win by the Panthers in the 81st annual City Game at CONSOL Energy Center, and, in truth, should have had his first collegiate double-double.
“He can run the floor, he can finish, but he really needs to improve and we knew that going into this. We want to play through him,” head coach Jamie Dixon said of Adams, who played 28 minutes in the victory and committed just one foul. “I thought he made some real nice passes with a couple of assists passing out of the post. Once we got the ball and didn’t get an initial break, we wanted to get the ball inside, and I thought he made some good passes out of the post to guys for open shots.”
Pitt shot 27% in the first half, but thanks to the presence of Adams down low, Duquesne shot an even more miserable 24.1% for the period, and 31.6% for the game, as the Panthers were on top 29-17 at the midpoint.
Adams was not immune to the first-half offensive woes of his teammates. He shot 1-of-5, including three missed putbacks on one possession, but not even his setbacks could deter him against these Dukes.
His first–and only–steal led to Pitt’s first points on a layup by fellow first-year star James Robinson 1:28 into the contest.
He followed a pair of missed foul shots by snagging the rebound and finding Cam Wright, who found Tray Woodall for the first of his five three-pointers, putting Pitt in front, 10-7, with 12 minutes till the break.
His work off the glass started and extended a possession culminating in a Robinson three with under six minutes left in the half, part of a 9-0 run that put Pitt ahead to stay.
His two dunks, particularly the wide-open and slightly more emphatic one with just over five minutes left in regulation, drew some of the more boisterous noise of the night from the Oakland Zoo.
On Wednesday Adams did what fans have been anxiously awaiting: he got mean.
“I don’t know if it is aggression, aggression’s gotten him some fouls too. We worked on some things with rebounding and we emphasized some things, it’s a new world for him in so many ways. He’s had some moments like how he played today. He’s a great kid,” Dixon said. “People will say, ‘why’d he miss the layups?’ We got nine offensive rebounds. It’s never going to be enough. We understand that and I’ve explained that to him. He’s going to get better and has gotten better. He’s fun to have on the team.”
Despite the early struggles of their big men, the Panthers outscored the Dukes 26-22 in the paint, and, much to Dixon’s delight, brought Pitt back to its roots by out-rebounding their uptown brethren 49-33.
Sophomore and Latvian doppelganger Martins Abele had marginally better luck against Pitt’s interior off the bench, but Adams was just too much of a presence. Duquesne’s starting frontcourt went 2-of-11 from the field with seven rebounds.
“It is great to see him go out and get rebounds. He is one of those guys that do it a lot in practice and we know what he is capable of,” said Woodall, who led all with 24 points. “I’m glad he’s becoming more comfortable going out and being an attacker to get rebounds. It was great to see him go out there and get rebounds. He is one of those guys that can do it on a consistent basis. That boosted us a lot.”
“I don’t think it had anything to do with the stage,” head coach Jim Ferry said of his team’s 12th consecutive loss in the series. “I thought it had to do with Pitt’s defense. We could have played this game in a parking lot somewhere. It’s not the stage.”
The stage wasn’t too big for one big man, that’s for sure…and the 13,089 fans who set that stage can attest.
What can I say? He loves a big room.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)