Pitt really could have used a victory today (that seems to be the theme of the season, actually) after a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech a few days ago. They didn't get it and now the team faces the prospect of missing the NCAA Tournament after a 63-59 loss to the Yellow Jackets.
The key to the Virginia Tech game for me was effort. I thought Pitt put out a better effort today and was fine with their energy for the most part. But they couldn't shoot and were outmuscled on the boards. That's a difficult combo to overcome.
Talk about effort, Pitt got a great one from Michael Young, who's been criticized a little. It's pretty clear that the team needs him and without him today, this probably goes from being a close loss to an ugly one. Young had a game-high 24 points to go along with seven rebounds. The problem was he didn't get nearly enough help. Jamel Artis had a weak six points on 2-9 shooting, Rafael Maia and Ryan Luther combined for zero points and four rebounds. Outside of Sheldon Jeter's good game off the bench (12 points and seven rebounds), the Panthers had only two other bench points.
The eye-popping stat today, of course, was that Pitt didn't make a single three-pointer in the game. I'm sure that's happened before but I can't recall the last time. You just don't see it every day and when you consider how well the team shot from beyond the arc earlier in the season, it's astonishing to put that into context. Pitt was 0-11 from three-point range and here's the thing - those shots aren't just about getting the extra point. Three-pointers change the momentum of games, they suck energy from the opposing team. When you don't make any, you take all of that away and on the road, that's sorely needed. It's sickening to know that by even making only a few, which is practically a given every time out, the game could have had a different result.
The Panthers were also bullied on the glass and dominated in the rebounding battle, losing it unofficially, 41-33. Again, not something you see every day. Georgia Tech didn't shoot well, either (both teams shot 39% from the field), but they won the rebounding battle, forced a few more turnovers, and made a few more free throws. There's your difference.
I made this point on Twitter, but the schedule-makers didn't do Pitt any favors, either. Winning on the opposing floor on a team's Senior Day is tough. The Panthers had that scenario in back-to-back games to finish the year. Normally, that might not be a big deal, but when you're fighting your way into the NCAA Tournament, it's a tough situation. Pitt, of course, had no excuse to drop both of these games after dominating a Top 15 Duke team last week. Got to get one of those - especially the Virginia Tech one. But these weren't exactly gimmes, either. As was mentioned in the broadcast, Georgia Tech is effectively out of the tournament but hoping to play themselves back in with a win today and a deep ACC Tournament run. They played like the desperate team and it showed. Finally, it's also not that easy to defeat the same team twice in a season.
Where the Panthers go from here is anybody's guess. You'd like to think they will come out in the ACC Tournament and win the one game that would make a lot of fans feel much more comfortable about getting into the Big Dance. But whoever they face, that's hardly a given. After all, how can you feel that confident at this point that the team will come out and play with the urgency they need while making shots?
Selection Sunday should be interesting, to say the least.
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