Quentin Snider shoots the ball during the game against the Panthers at KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Andy Lyons / Getty Images
Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino gives instructions to his team during the game against the Panthers.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Admittedly, Jamel Artis feels the same way going into every game, believing he has the potential to take it over in a profound and eye-popping way.
While he didn’t walk into the KFC Yum! Center Wednesday night with any kind of sneaking premonition that he would have the best game of his college career, and the best scoring night a Pitt player has had since the same year of the Sputnik launch, he knew it potentially could be one of those nights. To the senior guard, there’s always that chance.
The Panthers’ 6-foot-7 standout entered the game against Louisville facing questions about how he would fare against Louisville’s tenacious, turnover-happy pressing defense. Even in an 85-80 loss, he exited it after inciting a fair number of head-shakes and dropped jaws from a frustrated home crowd after pouring in a career-high 43 points, the second-most a Pitt player has scored in a game, behind only Don Hennon’s 45 points from a December 1957 contest against Duke.
“Every night I go out, I want to go out competing at a high level,” Artis said. “I’m very key to this team. I have to score the basketball. The team with the most points wins. I have to go out, find what I can in that 2-3 matchup. We’ll be fine.”
For all Artis did — for all the deep shots, the crisp drives and the smooth finishes — it simply wasn’t enough. He accounted for 53.8 percent of his team’s overall points, outscoring his nine other teammates who saw the court, 43-37. The Baltimore native finished with 15 of the Panthers’ 26 made shots and seven of their 12 3-pointers. While he shot an astonishing 15 of 22 (68.2 percent), the rest of his team made just 11 of their 36 field-goal attempts (30.6 percent).
Artis’ point total was the highest in the ACC since Boston College’s Tyrese Rice had 46 against North Carolina in March 2008 and was the highest for a Louisville opponent since 1995.
Like much of his team, Artis did a majority of his work in the second half, scoring 32 points and putting in 11 of his 15 made shots in the game’s final 20 minutes. By the end of his tear, he had many of the 21,558 in attendance trying to process what was transpiring, including former Louisville all-American Russ Smith, who shouted “He got 40?!” in astonishment from his court-side seat after Artis sunk a deep 3 with one minute remaining to get him to 41 points.
His coach was equally moved.
“He’s just a good player,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “He’s very skilled, he’s got great size. He’s completely unaffected by any environment. He’s just got a lot of competitiveness to him and a lot of toughness to him. None of us are surprised to see him play really good. But that was impressive.”
The script wasn’t quite identical, with the specifics and exact flows of the game differing slightly, but four days after falling behind big early to a talented Syracuse team on the road, Pitt again dug itself a sizable hole in the first half.
A 13-1 run from the Cardinals (14-3, 2-2) midway through the first half turned a modest 14-10 lead into a commanding 27-11 advantage and by halftime, the Panthers deficit grew to 21. Between the Syracuse and Louisville games, Pitt (12-5, 1-3) was outscored by a combined 78-25 margin in the opening 12 minutes. The Panthers clawed their way back for much of the second half — outscoring the Cardinals by 16 in the final 20 minutes — and got within five after a 3 from Mike Young with 45 seconds remaining.
By then, however it was simply too late.
“You have to be consistent,” Stallings said. “We talked about this in the non-conference, in the postgame news conferences, when I talked about needing to play closer to 40 minutes. It was good enough for us to win most of our non-conference games, but that isn’t how it is in this league. We just have to be more consistent.”
The loss was Pitt’s ninth in a row to the Cardinals and it gave the Panthers their worst four-game start to conference play since the 2012-13 season.
Stallings was proud of the way his team competed, even when the odds seemed too great against it, and even when it was down as many as 26 early in the second half, Pitt believed there was a road back.
But with 13 missed free throws on 29 attempts — and a 45-30 rebounding disparity against a taller, longer Louisville team — the loss lingers for Pitt as a “What if?” Even for a man who, for one night, seemingly couldn’t be stopped.
“I knew we were going to have a chance to come back,” Artis said. “We were going to make our run. I think we missed too many free throws. That cost us.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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