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Pitt losing streak hits four with 79-72 loss to Florida State

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

The Pitt men’s basketball team took another shot at victory on Saturday. But after a somewhat close game, the result was the same as it has been each of the last four times out — another loss. The Panthers (9-9) fell to No. 16 Florida State (13-3) 79-72.

Pitt’s offensive performance wasn’t completely lacking. The Panthers did, after all, score 72 points. But how the Panthers got there was a problem. The team shot just over 38% for the game, including a dismal 4-17 performance from three-pint range. As it has been many other times this year, scoring efficiency was a problem.

In particular, Pitt’s guards had trouble making shots. Xavier Johnson, Ithiel Horton, and Nike Sibande all started and each took 13 shots. But only Johnson had a solid day, making six of his 13 attempts. Horton and Sibande combined for a 7-26 performance and if you’re looking to place blame, that’s probably where you start.

Justin Champagnie had another strong game for Pitt, scoring 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Both of those numbers were game highs, leading both teams. But he was one of the lone bright spots.

Florida State didn’t shoot lights out, either, and that was the reason things were close throughout. But every time the Panthers closed in, Florida State would pull away. They just never really had enough offense to get over the hump.

Sibande hit a three-pointer with just under 7 12 to play in the first half to cut the lead to 24-23 but the Seminoles would score five straight to extend the lead to six, where it stood at halftime. The Panthers would get that lead back to three early in the second half before another short burst by Florida State pushed it back to eight. Pitt would make one last gasp, cutting it to 74-70 with just under a minute left in the game but by then it was too little too late.

Trying to take the lead after falling behind was made even more difficult by the loss of Au’diese Toney, which was announced prior to the start of the game. Toney apparently missed the game with a concussion due to a car accident, according to the PG. How much time he misses, if any additional games, is not yet clear. But his loss today clearly hurt with the Panthers losing the rebounding battle and forcing the little-used Sibande into a much larger role. Coming into the game, Sibande had only taken 27 shots all season. He took nearly half of that in Saturday’s game alone.

Toney is the team’s second-leading scorer (14.4 ppg) and second leading rebounder (5.9 rpg), so his absence was a significant factor. His 2.3 assists are also second best on the team and taking him out of the offense gives the team a dramatically different look.

The air’s long since come out of the Panthers’ season. At 9-9, they haven’t been terrible this season. But in the midst of a long streak of losing, things have come off the rails and it’s going to be hard for the casual fan to stay interested There’s some degree of intrigue, I suppose, on an individual basis to see if Champagnie can take home a major honor. But from a team standpoint, how much fan interest there is at this point is debatable. When you lose seven out of eight games, that’s a good way to empty out a bandwagon.

The Panthers’ next scheduled game is Sunday, February 28 against NC State — just over a week from now. But as we’ve seen this year with other games being canceled, it’s possible the team will add an opponent for a contest before then.

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