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Several positives in Pitt’s loss to No. 18 West Virginia

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NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s rally against No. 18 West Virginia fell short on Saturday as the Panthers lost to the Mountaineers in the Backyard Brawl, 69-60. But despite the defeat, there were quite a few encouraging things from the game.

Typically I’m not much of a moral victories kind of guy. But this season, that’s changing and you have to look more about how much they improve over the course of the year and less to the actual win-loss results.

In no particular order, here were five things I liked tonight.

Rebounding

I’m sure some casual fans didn’t notice but Pitt big man Kene Chukwuka missed tonight’s game as he was a late scratch with an illness. Chukwuka is kind of spotty and probably needs to get a little tougher but at 6’9”, I figured his absence would hurt a team that’s struggled to rebound even more.

Pitt, though, did pretty well on the boards and even won the rebounding battle relatively easily, 38-32. Ryan Luther had 12 to lead the way and Pitt mostly did a decent job on the glass. They’re going to have to add some more size going forward but tonight, they held their own on the boards.

Fight

This might have been the most encouraging thing from tonight’s game. Pitt was down by 18 at the half and could have fallen completely apart in the second. But they didn’t and they not only fought back but even came close to pulling off an upset before fading in the final few minutes.

To cut that lead to only two points playing against a Top 20 team was really great to see. The team is starting to mature and if they play like they did in the second half against other teams, they’ll win more games than expected.

Composure

Along those lines, Pitt really played with more composure in the second half.

This is a very young team but there were some sequences in the final 20 minutes that made that hard to believe at times. Some guys like Marcus Carr, who hit an and-1 three-point shot, knocked down some crucial shots and they handled the press a little better than I thought they might.

They had 14 turnovers so things weren’t perfect against the press. But with a team full of freshmen that’s had games with more turnovers than that this year, things could have been much worse. Pitt needs another ball-handler out there to complement Carr and turned to Luther in the second half a little, which seemed to help.

Free Throws

Pitt was down by 18 in the first half but it could have been much worse. The reason it wasn’t is because, while Pitt made only four field goals, they shot a ton of free throws.

On the night, they got to the line 31 times and made a reasonable 22 of them. Contrast that to only nine attempts for the Mountaineers and that was a big reason Pitt was able to stay in it. It would have been nice to knock a few more down but to get to the line that much was a big benefit.

Sometimes it was a result of West Virginia’s hyperaggressive defense and others it was Pitt actually putting itself in position to get to the line. But however it happened, that was a pretty good way to put points on the board since shots weren’t falling in the first half.

Atmosphere

The crowds at the Pete have been, in a word, down. Pitt has set a few record lows for attendance this year and it’s no secret that the fans haven’t showed up much so far. But there was a nice crowd tonight and with some football recruits there, especially, it was great to see The Pete look and sound much more like The Pete of old.

West Virginia fans showed up so that was part of it but even while having more road fans than you typically see, that helped make the building fuller and provided a nice atmosphere in a rivalry game.

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