Pitt raced out to a big lead against Maryland and in the end, held on for a somewhat comfortable 73-59 win in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Maryland came into the game a four-point favorite or so, and that seemed about right. They were 7-0, had a couple of decent wins, and had the game at home. So when Pitt went up 45-24 at halftime, I don't think anyone expected that.
As I said in the gamethread, I expected the Terrapins to make a run after that. The Panthers got the lead up to 25 in the second and, well, Maryland did make a run. But while things got a little dicey, they didn't get any closer than eight.
Sure, it would have been nice to see Pitt hold that 20 point lead and absolutely run away with it, but you had to imagine at some point, Maryland would hit some shots. This wasn't a complete mismatch of talent so seeing Maryland make a game of things wasn't surprising. Plus, a lot of people will talk about Pitt's defense and I think that is a little misguided. Seth Greenberg said that after the game and talked about the defense being the key. The Panthers played okay defensively, but in reality, Maryland missed a boatload of wide open, uncontested shots and they shot under 35% for the game. If they were even halfway decent in knocking down shots, it's a much closer game.
That's to take nothing away from Pitt. The energy was there tonight and the effort was solid at both ends of the court. I criticized the team a little in a recent game for their offensive shot selection. I thought they did an outstanding job getting great shots. Young and Artis got to the basket and the jump shots the entire team took were largely uncontested. I have little doubt that Kevin Stallings emphasized that in practice because I think it was their best shot selection all season. It was very impressive how Pitt came out and played as a whole.
Pitt got great games from, you guessed it, Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Young had 25 points and nine rebounds, leading the team in both categories. Artis had 22 points, six boards, and a pair of steals. Greenberg made a good point after the game in asking if Artis would really be able to do what he needed to at the point down the stretch. The one thing that drove me a little nuts was how he was pretty loose with the ball on occasion. Twice, he nearly fell victim to over-and-back calls, coming close to going across the halfcourt line. That's really my only criticism and if you're grading Artis tonight, he gets an A instead of an A+. No real biggie.
I wanted to touch a little more on Young since it was a good game against a quality team. A lot of people expect his scoring to simply drop off once the competition gets better, but as I said before, we'll have to see how much that happens. The fact is that he and Artis get so many shots per game that his numbers might not even suffer that much. He may get a little less efficient (and truthfully, he had some problems getting buckets in the last ten minutes) but there's a very real chance he ends up being a 20-point scorer per game all the way through the year.
And of course, he's not only scoring. He leads the team in rebounds, too, and one oft-overlooked thing is his free throw shooting. He didn't get the easy buckets he sometimes does late in the game tonight, but he made his free throws, shooting 9-10. He's over 86% on the year as a center (let that sink in) and you don't need me to tell you that's a huge advantage. Whenever your team's best scorer is also a great free throw shooter, that's a tremendous deal since he can't be fouled intentionally late in games.
It was easy watching Young and Artis beating up on weaker competition. But I'm not so sure that will end even once they get into ACC play. The question, as has been stated more than it needs to be, is how much they get from the rest of the team.
Really big win for Pitt tonight and technically, it's a ranked win. The Terps were ranked 22nd in the USA Today Coaches Poll and while unranked in the AP poll, they were just outside at No. 26. The win against them should draw some attention nationally for the program.
Pitt is now 2-1 in their tougher games against Maryland, SMU, and Marquette. It's pretty hard not to be happy with that. The great news is that while Pitt has some challenging non-con games left against rivals Duquesne and Penn State, that the toughest part is now behind them. They have a long way to go, obviously, but finishing the non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record is a possibility. And given the number of decent opponents, that would be outstanding.
In the words of Chris Jericho, Drink it in, man.