Pitt played an incredibly strong first half racing out to a 26-point lead at one point in their game against Buffalo. For 20 minutes, it looked like the rout was on. The problem, as it was in the last game, is that basketball games (well, most of them, anyway) consist of two halves. Pitt not only allowed Duquesne back in the game their last time out after building a nice first-half lead, they lost entirely. Tonight against Buffalo they managed a win ... but it wasn't easy.
Buffalo got the lead all the way down to one point and played Pitt closely the rest of the game. The Panthers were able to gut out an 84-79 win.
Pitt's loss to Duquesne was bad. Catastrophic? Nah. The team was without its second-best player, Jamel Artis, who's not only good but could be All-ACC first team good. And facing a rival who always gets up for the game, a loss was disappointing but not entirely inconceivable. Flukes like that happen. A 4-5 Indiana State team beat No. 16 Butler tonight. Those games happen to everyone from time to time.
But to build a massive lead in this game to prove to everyone that things are fine ... and then to lose it all, I mean ...
The problem is that this was against a bad team. At home. Immediately after the Duquesne debacle. This was tailor made for a 25-30 point win. How this game happens right after the Dukes contest is sort of ridiculous. You can find plenty of excuses for that Duquesne game, but I'd love to hear even the most ardent Pitt supporters explain this one away.
I maintain that head coach Kevin Stallings still deserves time to prove himself, recruit, etc. No coach should be run out of town before his team has even begun conference play in his first season. But this type of unacceptable, lackluster play in the second half has to stop. There's absolutely no reason this shouldn't have been a 20-25 point win. Xavier beat them by 33. Creighton won by 21. Even St. Bonaventure beat the Bulls by a bigger margin, winning by six.
It hasn't just been the past two games, either. Pitt got out to a big lead against Maryland before allowing the Terps to cut into it before holding them off at the end. Pitt has had all sorts of problems with the second halves of games.
One of the knocks on Stallings after the hire was announced was his postseason track record. Despite recruiting relatively well and landing some NBA talent, his teams. In 17 years at Vanderbilt, his teams made only two Sweet 16 appearances (and none since 2007). In seeing some of the play from the team (a team not without talent) lately, it's easy to see why some of his teams have underachieved.
One of the bright spots for me was seeing a balanced scoring effort. Michael Young was again key with 17 points and Jamel Artis added 16. But Pitt got 17 from Cameron Johnson, 12 from Chris Jones, and 11 each from Sheldon Jeter and Ryan Luther. Now, nobody else contributed a single point, so there's that. But Pitt did something I mentioned in the last game.
In that Duquesne game, the Panthers got next to nothing from guards Damon Wilson, Justice Kithcart, and Jonathan Milligan. While those guys played some in the first half when the lead was big, I didn't see them much in the second. In theory, Pitt's first six is so much better than its remaining bench that I think they could get away with playing those guys almost exclusively. Sub Luther in when Young needs a rest and give Kithcart minutes when Artis needs spelled at the point. But it's become pretty clear that Pitt's best bet is as a six-man show.
Are those six guys good enough to lead this team far into the postseason? That remains to be seen. But given what they're getting from the other guys, I don't know how you justify continuing to give them minutes.
There's no doubt that Pitt needs to up the intensity for a full 40 minutes. How they started tonight's game was encouraging but it can't just be about coming out hot - the team needs to finish games.
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