At halftime, the Panthers trailed No. 18 West Virginia by nearly 20 points and it looked like Pitt was destined for a beatdown. A furious rally in the second half brought the Panthers to within two, but West Virginia eventually held them off for a 69-60 win.
That Pitt was even in it late was nothing short of remarkable. The Panthers were horrendous in the first half and made only four field goals. The team didn’t make their first one until about eight minutes in They were down by 18 at halftime and it would have been even worse had Pitt not lived at the foul line due to some aggressive defense by West Virginia. They made 15 of 21 free throws and that was the only thing that kept it from being even worse.
I thought that Pitt’s team had showed some improvement over the last couple of weeks but, as I wrote before, that was difficult to gauge for sure. Tonight’s game should prove that, however. The Panthers played a terrible first half and still not only fought back but hung with a top 20 team that pressed on defense.
Pitt got a strong game from Ryan Luther with team highs in points (13) and rebounding (12). Freshmen Marcus Carr and Shamiel Stevenson each had 12.
As expected, West Virginia’s press caused problems for Pitt. The Panthers had 14 turnovers but that wasn’t even the biggest factor to me. What really caused Pitt problems was that, even when they didn’t turn it over, the press just didn’t allow them to set up their offense all that effectively. That led to some poor shots with a short shot clock and just kept the Panthers out of rhythm. Pitt was rushed, missed difficult layup attempts, and just couldn’t get much going in the first half. The shooting was bad but I also think a lot of that was based on West Virginia’s defense, which really kept Pitt uncomfortable in those first 20 minutes.
What does this mean for the rest of the year? I’m not entirely sure. No, Pitt isn’t a Top 25 caliber team. But I do think it means they can be a little more competitive against some of the teams in the bottom half of the ACC than was originally thought. There’s still a chance Pitt is largely wiped out in conference play. But there now appears to be an opportunity to avoid the absolute blood bath that many predicted before the season.
The bottom line is that this team is improving and with such a young and almost entirely new squad with low expectations, that’s really about all you can ask for. We’ve got to see how the rest of the season plays out but head coach Kevin Stallings is getting these guys better and he deserves a lot of credit for that.