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NC State comeback hands Pitt a 72-68 defeat

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For about 35 minutes, the Pitt men’s basketball team looked poised to win its first ACC basketball game. What was that about playing a complete game again?

The ‘Gotta play for 40 minutes’ thing has been a theme for Pitt all year. It was again on display tonight as the Panthers completely collapsed in the final five minutes to ultimately lose a 15-point lead, falling 72-68 to NC State.

I remarked that Pitt’s emphasis at halftime should be on defense and that if they’d keep NC State to 70 points, they’d win. Yeah, not so much. After an incredible first half, the Panthers’ offense completely disappeared in the second beyond what anyone could expect even during this season.

Pitt (8-13) played as great as a first half as they probably could. They led by ten at the break and at one point, were up by 15. I don’t know what their shooting percentage was in the first half, but they shot the ball really well. Conversely, NC State (14-7) just didn’t look very good. I think that was about as perfect a half as they are capable of playing against against an ACC team.

The second half? Not so much.

Shots dried up and NC State, as you would expect, played better. The biggest problem seemed to be from the three-point line. Pitt made eight in the first half and zero in the second, finishing 8-28 on the night.

Earlier this week, I opined that opponents have a large margin for error against Pitt. Even if a team is caught looking beyond them or doesn’t play a great game, they still have a decent shot at beating this Pitt team that isn’t very good. That could not have been truer tonight. The Panthers’ problem, as it has been all year, is putting together a complete game. Now, when Pitt collapses is always an unknown but it generally happens at some point and tonight, it was at the very end.

Pitt held a nine-point lead with under six minutes left but then had one of their routine offensive droughts, not getting a field goal until a Marcus Carr layup with 12 seconds left in the game. In all, NC State went on a 15-2 run to close the game out.

That Pitt collapsed isn’t all that surprising. This is a young team still feeling its way around and as I said in the gamethread, a 9-point game with six minutes left isn’t an insurmountable lead. Plus, as stated, we’ve seen the offensive droughts all year long. Sure, a halfway decent team playing a mediocre team should close that out every time. But Pitt, with all due respect, simply isn’t a halfway decent team this year.

Surprising? Maybe not. Frustrating? Absolutely.

Here’s the thing - as we all know, wins in conference will be few and far between. So when you have chances like this, you’ve got to capitalize. This may legitimately be the only time all year that the team has such a big lead. 15-point lead, playing at home, not a terribly strong opponent - this one was teed up. I don’t want to sound too harsh on these guys because they’re so young. But it’s gotten to the point that, if you’re not going to close this one out, I don’t know which games you will close out.

I’m less upset about the team not winning than I am disappointed for these kids. They played really well and, even when the shots weren’t falling in the second half, still maintained a good lead until the end. The overwhelming feeling I had was that I just wanted them to win for themselves. Me? Eh, I couldn’t really care less. It’s a lost year and one random win isn’t doing anything for me personally. But man, I would have loved to see them get a chance to win a conference game just for their own sanity.

The drought continues.

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