Some games, plays stick out like sore thumbs. There was a sequence in the second half where Pitt trailed Duquesne by two and the Panthers forced a crucial miss. Michael Young, who has been nothing short of sensational this season, went up for a clear rebound with no one around him. In his haste to grab the ball with a little muscle, it frittered away from him into the hands of Duquesne, who promptly hit a three-pointer to go up by five.
That's what kind of night it was for Pitt.
After playing an impressive game on the road against a ranked Maryland team, the Panthers managed to come out and do something that hasn't been done in 15 years - lose to intercity rival Duquesne. Pitt didn't only lose, they lost badly to the tune of 64-55. Not enough points, not enough defense, not enough anything, really.
A lot of people have talked about what the team will look like next year. Tonight, we sort of got a glimpse of that.
At this point, Pitt is a two, perhaps three man team when Cameron Johnson is playing well. And the Panthers were down their second-best player in Jamel Artis, who was suspended for the game due to ... something. Artis, for what it's worth, isn't just Pitt's second-leading scorer. He's the second-leading scorer in the entire ACC behind only Young, his teammate. Tonight, we saw what happens when you take one of Pitt's top two guys out of the equation.
Pure, unmitigated disaster.
Pitt couldn't shoot (stop me if you've heard this before) and largely looked like they didn't care until it was too late. That showed in the first half, by the way, when they raced out to a 30-20 lead. But instead of putting the game away, as they had the chance to do, they allowed Duquesne to go on a 9-0 run to close out the half. That didn't seal their fate, but it allowed Duquesne to realize they could play with them. Big mistake.
Pitt often takes too many three pointers for my liking, but that was particularly true tonight. They were 3-22 from there and they simply shouldn't have to do that to beat Duquesne. Now, the Panthers have been a decent-shooting team from long range, making over 35% of their attempts. It hasn't been the thing that's done them in this year so I know what you're going to say. 'Well, Anson, it's easy to complain when the shots don't fall.'
But here's the thing -
Part of the reason Pitt has shot so many threes this year is because of Artis. Artis leads the team with 39 attempts and only one other player (Cam Johnson) has even 20 or more. If you take Artis out of the equation, Pitt should be shooting not only less three-pointers, but much less. And when you think about it, it's pretty easy to see what happened. Pitt missed Artis, tried to overcompensate for his scoring, and failed miserably. It's almost as if the team panicked instead of working to score easier buckets - which, hello, against Duquesne, they should be able to do.
After all, shooting three-pointers against Duquesne shouldn't necessarily be easier. Getting into the lane, drawing fouls, and beating guys off the dribble should be.
Here's the stat you should remember after tonight. The Panthers averaged 21 three-pointers a game coming into tonight. Artis accounts for more than 25% of the team's three-point attempts and they still ended up shooting one more attempt than they typically do. Hysterical.
Now, if Pitt had trailed all game long and was behind by a lot, taking that many three-pointers would make some degree of sense. But the reality is that Pitt led much of the first half and it was a four-point game with about two minutes left. This was a close game throughout - not the type of game where that many three-pointers would be necessarily warranted.
It wasn't just three-pointers, obviously. Not enough players stepped up on offense as a whole and the team shot under 34% from the field.
This annoying thing is that this type of game was tailor-made for someone like Sheldon Jeter. Without Artis in there, a guy like Sheldon should have been chomping at the bit to turn in a 15-point night. Instead, he went 1-6 from the field (including 1-4 from three-point range, boys and girls) and while he grabbed ten rebounds, Pitt needed more offense from him than the five points he provided. Cam Johnson scored 14 points, but needed 16 shots to do it. Seven of those were, you guessed it, from beyond the arc. Even Young was off with 19 points but shooting 38% from the field. And when you shoot as much as Young does (21 shots tonight), well, 38% ain't cutting it.
At least those guys did something, though. And Chris Jones was one of the few bright spots for Pitt with 11 points on an efficient 4-6 from the field. At some point, we've got to look at this guard rotation after him and wonder what these guys are doing. The trio of Damon Wilson, Justice Kithcart, and Jonathan Milligan got 31 minutes tonight and turned in two points. Most of our readers could get into a Pitt game, play 31 minutes and find a way to score one basket. Those guys are young - I get it. But, honestly, if that's what you're getting from these guys, you might as well have dropped everyone down a position, put Luther into the starting lineup, and burned the starters for 38 minutes. Not one of those guys has played with any sort of consistency this year and if Pitt doesn't have at least one transfer coming in at guard next season, you might as well close up shop.
And if we're playing the blame game, give Artis an honorable mention, too. I'm hesitant to call him out too much since we have no idea what he did. But at the same time, if we're to believe Kevin Stallings is fair and reasonable, then he obviously did something wrong. The fact is that, as a senior especially, he absolutely has to realize that he's far too valuable to be breaking conduct rules or whatnot. Just like Tyler Boyd found out with the DUI charge - if you're a team leader, you need to take care of business.
Now, as bad as the loss was (and it was a trainwreck), surprisingly I'm not selling this team as much as others might be. The fact is they should be able to beat a team like Duquesne ten times out of ten, at full strength or not. But this team is also constructed in such a manner that if they are without one of their top two guys, it's a much different offense. When Pitt has those guys, as they should, they're a much better team. Yes, the loss sucks. And yes, it's really frustrating since they had a puncher's chance at getting ranked or very close to it with the win over Maryland. But when the team is at full strength, it's simply much better.
Next up, Buffalo on Wednesday.