There’s little doubt Pittsburgh has the ability to dominate its opponents inside the 3-point arc, as evidenced by a field-goal percentage that’s among the best in the country.
Lately, the third-ranked Panthers have been showing they can shoot from outside it as well.
Coming off their most productive performance from behind the 3-point line in nearly 12 years, Pittsburgh will try to keep its hot start - and hot shooting - going on Wednesday night when its hosts Siena.
The Panthers (10-0) have yet to have a game decided by fewer than 13 points, but a majority of those wins have come due to their dominating physical presence. Led by DeJuan Blair, the nation’s leading offensive rebounder at 5.9 per game, and leading scorer Sam Young, Pitt has been able to get a lot of easy shots inside. Its .492 field-goal percentage is among the 25 best in the country.
Yet the Panthers, off to their sixth straight 10-0 start under coach Jamie Dixon, haven’t typically been known as a great team from the perimeter. Pitt was 12th in the Big East and 232nd nationally in 3-point shooting last season at 33.5 percent, and through its first eight games in 2008-09, had made 32.5 percent from beyond the arc.
But the Panthers hit eight from 3-point range in an 80-51 rout of Vermont on Dec. 6, then followed that with an even better effort. Pitt sank 14 3-pointers on Saturday - its most since making 16 in January 1997 - and won by its most lopsided score of the season, beating Maryland-Baltimore County 91-56.
“Usually, we kind of throw it down low, bang it out and grind it out,” said Young, who led the team in scoring for the sixth straight game with 19 points. “But we couldn’t really get it down low like we wanted to because they were in a zone. That kind of forced us to shoot the 3 a little bit. We got hot, so we kept it going.”
Young, Levance Fields and freshman guard Ashton Gibbs all hit three 3-pointers. All three are shooting at least 39.0 percent from behind the line this season.
Fields leads the Big East with 6.7 assists per game, and the Panthers are 15th nationally with 18.3 per game as a team. The Panthers had 22 against UMBC.
“We did a very good job of being unselfish throughout the game,” Dixon said. “I thought we attacked well and had good ball movement against their zone. We were passing well, which made me real happy.”
Siena (5-3) has won three in a row since losing three straight, and the Saints’ pressure defense was as effective as ever in its latest win.
Siena forces 19.4 turnovers per game - 18th most in the nation - and on Dec. 9 it forced Marist into 26 miscues. Junior forward Alex Franklin led the way with a season-high 22 points, and the Saints turned a two-point halftime lead into a second-half rout in a 77-60 win.
Franklin is part of a balanced Siena offense that has its top three scorers back from a team that last season upset fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Franklin is second on the Saints with 14.1 ppg, just behind leading scorer Edwin Ubiles (14.8) and ahead of guard Kenny Hasbrouck (13.1).
Pitt and Siena have met three times previously, once a year from 1988-1990. The Panthers hold a 2-1 series edge.