"Jeter was the difference in the game." It was a simple statement by Syracuse's Hall of Fame Coach, Jim Boeheim, but it was certainly an accurate one. Pitt likely does but pull away late from Syracuse with an 83-77 victory without Sheldon Jeter's monster game. In fact, Pitt is not even close to conquering the Orange if Jeter turned in a game matching his season averages. The 6'8" sophomore forward left it all on the floor, and came up with a stellar 18 point and 5 rebound performance while filling in for the injured Cam Wright. Was it a fluke, or was it something more? Whatever the case may be, Pitt's season may be riding on that very question.
Sheldon Jeter has been a disappointment this season, and there is just no way around that. The Beaver Falls native had played a whole season of major college basketball before he transferred from Vanderbilt to Pitt, and many expected him to step right into Pitt's rotation and be a big contributor. Some even thought he would come in and replace Lamar Patterson right off the bat, and that has been just about the furthest thing than what has transpired this season. Maybe those expectations were unrealistic, but not by much, he was advertised as an experienced and athletic small forward. Jeter had managed just one double digit scoring effort this season coming into Saturday, and actually he has only played double digit minutes in nine of the team's games so far,while failing to appear in two games altogether. Simply put: Sheldon Jeter could not carve out a role on this basketball team.
All that may have changed with the performance on Saturday. Perhaps Jeter found the role he has been searching for during those 23 minutes against Syracuse to close out the season in a big way. Perhaps Jamie Dixon found that extra bench player that makes his team deeper and more versatile for the stretch run. Jeter looks the part with his size and athletic ability, but maybe all of it started with something simple - confidence. It was evident on Saturday that it was not the same player out there that we watched for the majority of the season. He was taking jump-shots with confidence, he was sticking his nose in there for offensive rebounds, and he was making the right passes. For one of the few times this season, Jeter was just playing basketball freely like he knows how to, and it was the difference in a pivotal win for this Panther team.
Pitt has plenty of work to do to get themselves into the NCAA tournament. This team has eight games left, including a three game gauntlet in five days facing all ranked teams, which starts Wednesday in Louisville. We know the shortcomings of this team with the lack of a center, no real outside shooting threat, and a short bench, but still here they are, 16-8 with their fate in their own hands. Pitt can actually still go to the tournament, and maybe more than we all knew, but Sheldon Jeter could potentially have a big hand in making that happen.