The Pitt Panthers suffered a disappointing 59-45 loss to the Syracuse Orange on Tuesday night after keeping things surprisingly close for the first 30 minutes of the game. But one positive that emerged was the impressive play of freshman guard Parker Stewart, who went off for a season-high 23 points, thanks to a night of excellent three-point shooting.
Stewart’s performance was notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that all but one of his eight field goals came from beyond the arc. And while Pitt was expected to take more three-point shots than usual against Syracuse’s zone defense, the team’s sudden reliance on Stewart, who took 35 percent of Pitt’s shots Tuesday night, came out of nowhere.
He managed to rise to the occasion, though, shooting 8-of-14 on the night, including 7-of-13 from three-point range. To put that into perspective, 93 percent of Stewart’s shots were triples, and he made 57 percent of them. He also showed off his range, dropping in one of his shots from about two steps past the midcourt logo.
“That’s Parker,” said teammate Kene Chukwuka after the game, per Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He can shoot the heck out of that ball. I see it every day in practice. I see it every day in shootaround after every practice. It’s nothing new.”
In addition to having a great shooting night, Stewart also saw a season-high 38 minutes and was the focal point of the offense — a role that’s often been reserved for Marcus Carr.
The idea was probably to limit turnovers against a Syracuse team that entered the contest ranked 25th in the nation in steals per game, as Stewart has given up the ball less often than any player averaging 20-plus minutes for Pitt this season.
Part of what makes Stewart’s breakout performance so special is the fact that it’s just the latest in a string of solid outings for the freshman. Since Dec. 22, he’s started every game for Pitt, and in that time, he’s seen an uptick in minutes and responded positively, evolving from a fairly anonymous first-year player into perhaps the team’s most consistent contributor.
The emergence of Stewart has come at an opportune time, too, as Carr and Jared Wilson-Frame have struggled with consistency since the start of conference play. If he can continue to perform at this level, Stewart will not only solidify his status as a starter, but he might be able to help will Pitt to a much-needed conference win before the season comes to a close.