First of all, quick PSA here. Wanted to give a shout out to all of our readers this year. I'm continuously overwhelmed by the sort of traffic we manage here and by the enthusiasm for Pitt sports. Really appreciate all of you.
PSA #2 - Be safe tonight. If you're like me, you'll be taking it easy at home and going to bed too early. If you're not like me and you're out and about, take it easy and be smart out there.
Okay, so with family in town, I missed most of today's Pitt game against Notre Dame. I checked in with about ten minutes left in the second half and even in the 15 minutes I watched, I came away with a little bit good and a little bad. In case you missed it, the Panthers fell to Notre Dame in overtime, 78-77.
One thing you had to love was how the Panthers came back at the end. Down by eight inside of ten minutes left in regulation, Pitt clawed back to take the lead in the second half. They couldn't keep it and the game went into overtime. But I still found myself appreciative of the way the team fought back.
But just as you might be proud of how the team fought back, the Panthers also gave up a couple of sizable leads on Saturday.
- They led by ten in the first half but by halftime, that lead was cut to two.
- After the half, they pushed it to seven again, but in a 10-minute span, found themselves on the wrong end of a 15-point swing, which got them to that eight-point deficit I mentioned earlier.
None of that even mentions the two smaller leads they had of five points each with under three minutes left in both regulation and overtime. Maintaining leads has been a problem for the team all year long and while you expect some swings through the ebb and flow of the game, Pitt had several leads they simply couldn't hold.
Another thing you probably didn't like was that Pitt left plenty of plays on the court towards the end. Particularly, they had some issues rebounding the ball at the end. The Panthers gave up three offensive boards, including an ugly sequence, in regulation that led to an Irish basket. Pitt gave up three more offensive rebounds to Notre Dame, too. The last one came after a missed jump shot and was secured before the three-point shot to win it.
To the rebounds since that was an issue late, some of them were unfortunate bounces. But some of them were just guys getting beaten to the ball or not boxing out. This is so cliche but in a game like this, every single possession counts. Giving up one of those is an easy way to lose a game.
As usual, Pitt was led by Michael Young and Jamel Artis (both had 25) but beyond Cameron Johnson's 14 points, there wasn't much more offense. Justice Kithcart, who got the start again and was effective against Marshall, was shut out. Ryan Luther managed only three points. Chris Jones provided only four in 26 minutes off the bench. Sheldon Jeter was a dismal 3-10 from the field in contributing six points in a whopping 39 minutes.
Just not nearly enough from those guys. And as usual, it's not always about the actual production in terms of output. You can live with a guy giving you only 4-5 points. But it's a problem when you have guys like Jeter eating up a ton of shots today and not producing much. If he's taking ten shots, you want him to either make more than three of them or scoring more points by getting to the line.
Compare and contrast the days Johnson and Jeter had, for example. Offensively, Cam was much more productive even though he didn't shoot the ball well, either - making only 4-12 shots. But he scored 14 points because he hit a couple of threes and got four points from the line. Jeter took only two less shots but didn't even score half as much because none of his makes were three-pointers and he didn't get to the line. Again, if you're taking double-digit shot attempts, you have to find a way to do a little more on offense. To be fair to Jeter, he grabbed a team-high 13 boards, so it's not as if he had a terrible game. But those shots are all valuable and you have to maximize your points.
The loss isn't a bad one for Pitt. But here's where the problem comes. The Panthers have a difficult road ahead with two games each against North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia - all top 12 teams. There are games against ranked Duke and Florida State teams. And while Syracuse is down this year, they're a rival of sorts and there's two against them.
While these types of losses won't kill Pitt in terms of their NCAA Tournament resume, whenever they're in position to win them (as they were today), they really need to close them out. There will be times this year when they aren't even all that competitive so on days when you can steal a Top 25 win, you've got to do it - especially when you get the game at home. This was a game, for all intents and purposes, that the team should have won with all of the leads they held.
Season far from over. And at the end of the day, taking a Top 25 team to the brink like Pitt did today is somewhat encouraging. But it's also really frustrating to let a game like this slip through your fingers.