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Pitt offense reaches new low in 59-45 loss to Syracuse

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt hung in there against Syracuse on the road tonight but ultimately fell to Syracuse, 59-45. Similar to the Virginia Tech contest, the game was a little closer than what the final score indicated. Still, it’s another pretty mind-numbing defeat for a team still searching for its first conference win.

The 45 points scored by Pitt were the fewest this season and Pitt has failed to crack 60 points in five of their six ACC games. Even for a team so challenged offensively, this was a new low. On the night, Pitt made only 14 field goals and shot 35% from the field.

Pitt was carried tonight by Parker Stewart. Stewart was 8-14 from the field and had a career high 23 points. He did almost all of his damage from the outside, shooting 7-13 from three-point range. His lone basket that wasn’t a three-pointer was a layup in the game’s final seconds. When on, he’s a great guy to be in there for a zone and he got plenty of open looks. Even though Syracuse plays a zone defensively, I was still surprised to see Stewart open so much. He was really the only guy on for Pitt offensively tonight and you’d figure that the Orange would have kept a closer eye on him.

And, no, the 18 turnovers Pitt had at that end surely didn’t help, either.

I figured Pitt would take a lot of three-pointers tonight and they did with 23. That was more than half of their total attempts (40) as the Panthers continue jacking up long-range shots with little desire to work the ball inside or take closer shots. Against a zone, you can sort of live with that a little but it’s been happening all year and you wonder if trying to find easier baskets will ever be a part of the equation.

I thought Pitt took a step forward defensively tonight. It’s easy to look at the 59 points Syracuse scored and attribute it to good defense. But I really did think Pitt was a lot more active defensively, getting hands up and preventing Syracuse from getting too many open looks. It wasn’t quite like the Jamie Dixon teams of old but they were much more competitive at that end of the floor.

As you might expect with a team that scored only 45 points, the Panthers again had some really bad lapses offensively. They led 22-19 before allowing an 8-0 Syracuse run to close out the half. They went more than seven minutes earlier in the half without a field goal. If you think that was bad, they had another seven-minute drought in the second half.

I mentioned this in the comments section but, even if Pitt gets a guy hot like Stewart, it’s still very tough for them to remain competitive because they have these stretches of five, six, seven minutes without making a basket. It seemingly happens every game against decent opponents. And they simply haven’t been good enough on defense to counteract that.

The theme for Pitt very much seems to be that they’re able to hang in there for a while but they ultimately run out of gas. We saw that again tonight and probably will continue to see it the rest of the year. It’s just frustrating because you see them do things like take a lead late in the first half and have some hope that they’re going to pull out a win only to see the rug yanked out from under them as the game goes on.

Pitt’s Marcus Carr and Shamiel Stevenson continue to struggle. Those guys have really seen a dip in production since the conference games began and had another tough night tonight. Carr had only two points and was 0-6 from the field while Stevenson was also scoreless with only one shot attempt. The zone, in particular, really seemed to bother him.

My motto with those guys continues to be patience. I’d like to see them doing a bit more and am frankly surprised they’re not. But they’re still true freshmen playing a lot of minutes in the toughest conference in basketball and it’d be kind of unfair to expect too much from them so soon.

If you’re a Pitt fan, I suppose you’re encouraged by keeping things relatively close on the road. But close doesn’t cut it and when the team barely cracks 40 points, the fact remains that these guys aren’t real good.

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