Virginia guard London Perrantes drives through the Pitt defense during Wednesday's ACC tournament game in Brooklyn.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It’s over.
Pitt’s 2016-17 season came to an end Wednesday night with a 75-63 loss to Virginia in the second round of the ACC tournament at the Barclays Center. The loss dropped the Panthers to 16-17 on the season, assuring them of the program’s first sub-.500 record since 1999-2000, Ben Howland’s first year at the school.
There’s only so much more I can say about this team at the risk of being redundant, though we may have passed that point long ago, so let’s get into it.
Turning point: Pitt, after trailing by 11 at halftime, got within a point, 44-43, after a dunk from Sheldon Jeter with 13:08 remaining. From that point, though, Virginia went on a 17-6 run to go up 12 with 5:38 left to play. That spurt was aided in some part by a Panthers offense plagued in the kind of drought that has undermined it at various points this season, as it went 5:13 without a made field goal following Jeter’s slam.
Game ball: Cam Johnson. The sophomore had a game-high 20 points while going six of 11 from the field and four of seven from 3-point range. This season was a breakout one for Johnson, who is going to be counted on to have an even greater role on a completely retooled team next season. His final performance of the 2016-17 season was an encouraging one for fans who will look to him to make next season something less than a miserable bridge to a better future.
Notable stat: 1,835, the number of career points for Mike Young, who scored 14 Wednesday and finished his Pitt career as the program’s seventh all-time leading scorer. He was six points shy of tying Don Hennon for fifth place on that list. It ended with a senior season that went poorly from a team standpoint in a way few would have imagined heading into it, but Young, for some of his other deficiencies, will and should be remembered as one of the more talented offensive players in the program’s modern history.
What it means: The ending we all knew was coming the past few weeks arrived, as the Panthers’ underwhelming season drew to a close. This was a talented-but-imperfect team with a lot of front-end offensive talent, but not a whole lot else behind it, like a house with a beautiful facade being held in place by a few pieces of plywood.
For all we can lament this team and its shortcomings and how far this program has fallen the past six years, they deserve praise for how they performed in Brooklyn. A group that very easily could have given up after losing five of their final six and seeing an NCAA tournament berth become an astronomically small possibility never wavered and, in fact, showed a level of fight I and many others didn’t know it had left in it. It came back to beat Georgia Tech in the second half on Tuesday and twice drew close against Virginia after falling behind by double digits to a team with a defense that can make a comeback feel like trying to sprint through quicksand.
We’ll construct an autopsy in the coming days with a few different stories, but this was a team that will leave behind a complicated and yet-to-be-determined legacy (because, seriously, their season ended only a few hours ago). If Stallings turns out to be a success at Pitt, this will be looked back upon as the transition year he and the program had to endure before his own players arrived. If he fails, this will stand as the first indication that this experiment was doomed, as an experienced squad with two of the top offensive talents the school has seen the past 20 years couldn’t even eke out a winning record. As it is with so many things in this life, we shall see.
What’s next: Nothing. OK, fine, an offseason in which the roster will continue to be reconstructed. Seven players are on board for next season and there will be more to come, potentially as many as three (making for 10 in total).
Notable quotables: “All in all, we played hard. We played very hard. I’m proud of the team for going out there and giving their all, whether it was me playing a lot of minutes or somebody else who didn’t play a lot of minutes. That’s all I can ask for. The game didn’t go our way. That’s what it is. I’m proud of my guys. They’re a phenomenal team. That’s the third time playing them and every game was harder each time we played them. We gave it our all, but a couple shots, a couple calls, a couple mental lapses on our part on defense and maybe the game would’ve been different. Overall, we did a great job.” - Mike Young
“For myself, I’m just going to remember all the good memories I had here. As a kid, I left when I was 14. I left friends. I left family. I left pretty much everybody I knew. I had to go to Jersey and start over, make new friends and new family. Coming back, I made a lot of memories, seeing people I hadn’t seen in years. My brothers on this team, that’s the biggest thing I’m going to take from it, all the relationships I built with this team.” - Young
“The record may not show it, our season may not show it, but I had a winning mentality and was a great teammate.” - Young, when asked how he’ll remember his time at Pitt and how others will remember his time with the program
“I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was those moments that hurt us. Sometimes, we’ll make a jump shot and it doesn’t fall, we need to get to the hoop better. It just happened today and they did a good job of burying their shots. At moments we did and at moments we didn’t. We gave it our all today. I’m very thankful I got to play with them. It’s rough to end it like this, but I know we gave it our all today.” - Cam Johnson on Pitt’s scoring droughts
“No matter how much we got down in this game, we kept fighting back because in the back of our minds, we kept saying we didn’t want this to be the last one.” - Sheldon Jeter
“I can’t really gauge how other people are going to look at us. I’m thankful for my time on the court. I’m thankful for getting to build with them. As far as what other people think about us, I can’t tell you. All I know is we went out and we gave everything we had every night. Whether it was the result people wanted or not, we gave everything we had.” - Jeter on how the four-man senior class will be remembered
“Going out, playing your hardest and not getting the results you wanted. That takes its toll on you after a while.” - Jeter on the most difficult aspect of this season
“I do think that we tried to utilize this week to come together and to play, think, be a team, and I thought that was reflected in our play. I thought it was reflected in our win last night. I thought it was reflected in our ability to go from wherever the game was at halftime to get it back to where we were really back in the mix and in that game.” - Kevin Stallings
“Our guys, especially our seniors, were thrust into a tough situation. They had played one way for one person for three years, and I came in and asked them to do some different things, and we were positionally absent of some things. I had to ask this guy to play out of position all season long. I thought he did a terrific job. I thought he was great tonight. But it’s been a challenging year for all of us, and I was proud of these guys for really fighting it to the end and doing the best they could.” - Stallings
“I really enjoyed these seniors, and I don’t think that there’s any question that it’s been somewhat dysfunctional at times, but I’ve enjoyed them individually. I’ve enjoyed them collectively. I laugh when I hear things. I don’t read too much, but I laugh when I hear things. You know, I benched him to start the game last weekend, and I get on my text messages, and on January the 28th, he sent me a text one night and said, I love you, Coach. You know, we’ve worked hard, all of us have worked hard to sort of acquiesce to the other and accommodate the other and know that we’re all in a situation that maybe we didn’t all choose exactly the way it unfolded. I thought Jamel and Mike and Chris and Sheldon, I thought those guys received me well, tried hard for me, and, again, under the circumstances did the best they could.” - Stallings
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG
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