If you had told me the Panthers would score 80 points tonight, I would have given them a pretty good chance to win. Louisville's offense hasn't been stellar and it was the defense that Pitt had to worry about.
Unfortunately, as we saw Saturday when the Panthers outscored Syracuse in the second half but were dominated in the first 20 minutes, there are two halves to a game. Pitt won the second half against Louisville handily (54-38) but were beaten worse than that margin (47-26) in the first half. Add it all up, and the Panthers fell 85-80 on the road in their latest ACC game.
The end result, of course, isn't disappointing. Sorry, but if you're expecting a win against a Top 15 team on the road vs. a program that Pitt has struggled badly with through the years, you might be setting unrealistic expectations. What's not unreasonable, however, is to expect the team to just come out and not get killed in the first half of a game.
If you're keeping track at home, that's now twice in a row we've seen this out of Pitt. Falling behind by 20 points at halftime in any conference game is just flat out embarrassing. To do it twice is sort of surreal. I don't have a problem with Pitt losing games like these at all this season. What I have an issue with is getting run out of the gym in the first half the very game after that same thing just happened.
Jamel Artis was nothing short of sensational. If you're not convinced that guy will get NBA looks, all you have to do is check out the tape from tonight. I'm not sure he'll land on a roster or get drafted but teams will be watching. He's been an offensive juggernaut all season long but this was the best game of his Pitt career. Artis had 43 points on 15-22 shooting to go along with seven three-pointers. He didn't do much else but anytime a guy gives you 43 points, you don't quibble. Artis has defensive deficiencies but, man, that guy can score.
Michael Young was far less impressive. With a double double (17 points and a team-high 11 boards), Young was hardly terrible. But he also made only five shots all night (out of 14 attempts) and, worse, was 4-11 from the free throw line.
Those free throws, by the way, were an absolute killer. His seven misses accounted for more than half of the entire rest of the team's and, in a five-point game, you certainly don't need me to tell you how important those were. Young is an 81% free throw shooter so to see him come out and lay an egg at the line is just ugly. And given that four of his misses came in the last ten minutes of the game, well, that didn't do the team any favors as they tried to come back and win.
In the absolute 'dog' category was Cameron Johnson, for a second straight game. Cam is now 3-20 in his past two contests and, at the moment, is making my comments about him drawing NBA attention in one of the recent articles look a bit foolish. I still believe that Cam is capable of getting looks by the time he's a senior but these last two games have not helped the team at all. Pitt can live without a third guy scoring when you're getting 60 points from Artis and Young. But the team has to play defense and can't have guys jacking up ten shots while only making one of them.
And with Cam out there for 31 minutes, he didn't exactly fill up the box score elsewhere, either. In all, to have one rebound, one assist, and no steals with that much time on the court is sort of embarrassing. You have to find a way to contribute elsewhere if the shots aren't falling. For example, it's a little easier to overlook Sheldon Jeter struggling on the offensive end if he's pulling in 7-8 rebounds.
Earlier this week, I wrote that Ryan Luther needed to step up. He took some baby steps towards that tonight with six points and six rebounds off the bench, but it was hardly a great game for him. He played a ton, getting 27 minutes, so his production is muted a little considering that. His only field goal came at the very end with the game ending and he also had four turnovers (something I mentioned was an issue in that article). The rest of the bench contributed only one point but didn't play all that much.
If the game was closer at halftime, do we see Pitt surge like they did? Eh, I don't know. Maybe Louisville keeps up the intensity and doesn't let Pitt get as close as they did tonight. But one thing's clear. Pitt has to get the sluggish starts out of their system. It's one thing to start slowly and trail by 6-8 points at halftime. But if you're trailing by 21 to a ranked team on the road, the game is practically over. The team has to come out with more intensity and find a way to knock down more shots early on.