When Jamie Dixon needed something more from his team against South Florida on Wednesday night, he did something uncharacteristic:
He changed up.
Fresh off an "ugly" first half - to use senior guard Tray Woodall's terminology - Pitt entered the final 20 minutes Wednesday night clinging to a one-point lead against a team that had only won one Big East game all season. And after one field goal in three attempts through the first four minutes of the second half, the Panthers found themselves trailing the lowly Bulls 30-28.
So at the 16-minute media timeout, Dixon scrapped the half-court offense he has developed and enforced over the last 10 years in favor of something a bit more…open.
"He wasn't calling any plays," Woodall said after the game. "He was just letting guys go out and play basketball. He was just telling us to go out there and play. Some guys probably never heard that from him this year, but he just let us go out there and play. He didn't call any sets; he just told us to play basketball."
Dixon said the change in approach was a bit more structured than that, but not much.
"It was just, 'Play basketball,'" he said. "They were sets, but it was more of a freelance-type thing. Just getting the ball and move, move from one side to the other; that was the emphasis. I just wanted them to play basketball. I don't know that they felt confident in that initially but they did see the results and I think they felt better about it.
"Sometimes you just have to play. I thought we were too stationary, too easy to guard, and it's something that we have and have done and something that we can use going forward."
Using that style of play in the future might be to Pitt's advantage, since the Panthers came out of the timeout and erased South Florida's two-point lead with a 16-0 run that left Pitt in charge 44-30 as the clock ticked under 10 minutes.
During that run, Pitt shot 7-of-9 from the floor, making as many field goals in six minutes and 43 seconds as the Panthers made in the entire first half. South Florida never recovered from Pitt's outburst during that stretch, and the Panthers went on to win 64-44, raising their overall record to 22-7 and improving to 10-6 in Big East play.
Given the state of the game when Dixon changed the offensive approach, chances are Pitt wouldn't have its 10th conference win yet without the adjustment.
"I think guys started to just settling down and settle in," Woodall said. "Coach was giving us some free reign to just go out and just play. Some guys were probably surprised, but once guys settled down and started playing our basketball, just playing like how we do in practice, we started getting open looks and guys started hitting open shots."
"I've been using that term, 'Play basketball' or 'Just play,'" Dixon said. "We've done it a couple times and it's part of our offense anyway, it's part of our package anyways, but we went with it permanently with about 16 minutes left in the second half, just saying, 'This is how we're playing, this is what we're doing all the way through.' I just wanted to take them out of thinking about some things and to get more movement. So that was the look offensively and we flowed a little better and we got more movement. Most importantly, we got more movement."
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