For a half, this looked like an old school Pitt game when the Panthers were one of the better teams in college basketball beating up on a weak non-conference team.
For a half.
But Pitt’s 22-point halftime lead against one of the worst teams in the nation kept shrinking and shrinking. With a few minutes left, it was all out panic mode. And when Delaware State (2-11) cut it to two with only 22 seconds left in the game, things looked really dicey. As I’ve pointed out before, though, this is actually a good free throw shooting team and Pitt knocked down their last four to pull out the 74-68 win.
We’ve seen this act before out of Kevin Stallings’ teams. Pitt (7-5) has raced out to big leads before only to nearly blow them at the end. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen that and it won’t be the last.
Pitt continued its recent act of jacking up a lot of three-pointers, shooting 35 of them tonight. And for the second straight game, it actually was an effective strategy since they made a reasonable 37% of them. I don’t really see that working against better teams but I couldn’t complain about most of them tonight since they were generally good open looks.
The Panthers had a really balanced attack playing without senior Ryan Luther for the second straight game with his foot injury. Jared Wilson-Frame and Jonathan Milligan led the team with 13 points while the emerging Khameron Davis had another good game with ten. Shamiel Stevenson again led the team with seven rebounds and that trend probably continues for as long as Luther is out. Pitt simply doesn’t have much size and has equally few players that are very skilled at rebounding.
So, about that blown lead - here’s the thing Pitt’s players haven’t quite grasped yet. When teams are shooting as poorly as Delaware State, eventually they’ll usually start making a few buckets. Similarly, when you’re shooting as well as Pitt did in the first half, you’ll eventually come back to earth.
If Pitt had kept its effort level high, there’s no way the game would have been so close. Maybe they don’t win by the 30 they probably should have but you don’t have a cliffhanger at the end. The second half was a perfect storm of what can happen when you take your foot off the gas. The other team makes more shots and the lead shrinks. You make fewer shots and the lead shrinks some more. Both of those things happen dramatically like they did tonight and you get a much closer game. These guys have to learn how to play with bigger leads.
That’s really the end of my rant. Look, I’m not going to try to convince you that this was a good thing. Pitt led by at least 25 at one point and, realistically should have won this game by at least that much given how hot they were in the first half. But in keeping with the theme for this season, I’m just not expecting much of anything so the point in being overly concerned about the end result would just be kind of meaningless.
This isn’t a great team and while they’re improving, I think they’re still pretty far back from most of the pack in the ACC. As I so often say this year, any win is basically like a bonus for me because I don’t know how many we’ll see in conference. There are no real expectations this year and when you don’t have any of those, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to kick and scream about narrow victories.
This year is the ultimate definition of when it’s perfectly fine to say ‘a win is a win’ and leave it at that.