Panthers drubbed at home by Louisville, their worst loss since 1906
January 25, 2017 1:01 AM
Pitt's Chris Jones drives to the net against Louisville's Donovan Mitchell in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Chris Jones tries to pass the ball around Louisville's Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Sheldon Jeter reaches for a rebound against Louisville's Mangok Mathiang in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
Louisville's Tony Hicks reaches for a loose ball against Pitt's Jamel Artis in the first half Tuesday at Petersen Events Center.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With his team riding a four-game losing streak and any hope of promise or potential vanishing by the day, first-year Pitt coach Kevin Stallings criticized the leadership of and buy-in from his players the day before their game against No. 13 Louisville. His remarks were, at best, a motivational ploy and, at worst, a glaring example of a coach in search of answers brazenly throwing his players under the proverbial bus.
If the desired result was to elicit an inspired response from a listless team, it backfired about as spectacularly and gruesomely as it could have.
A lethargic Pitt offense managed to make just 25.5 percent of its field goals and a ghastly defense allowed Donovan Mitchell to score 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a 6-of-8 mark from 3-point range, as the Panthers were throttled by Louisville, 106-51, Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center.
The loss was the second-worst in program history, trailing only a 106-13 defeat against Westminster in February 1906, 15 years after the game was invented. It also was the largest margin of victory for a road team in ACC history.
“That’s about as disappointing of a performance as I could possibly imagine,” Stallings said. “There are a lot of things I could say and a lot of things I would like to say, but suffice to say, it’s embarrassing, it’s unacceptable. It’s my responsibility to have them prepared to play better than that, harder than that, smarter than that. We weren’t. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility. I don’t know what short-term alternatives I have available to me. It doesn’t feel like many, honestly. From a long-term standpoint, there will be some options and we’ll get some things rectified. I think one thing this team has consistently shown is an inability to deal with adversity.”
Miami’s 72-46 victory against Pitt Jan. 14, then the worst Pitt loss in Petersen Events Center history, stood as a record for all of 10 days. In their past two contests in a building in which they were in a not-so-distant past seemingly invincible, the Panthers have lost by a combined margin of 178-97. For context, from the time Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, it took until 2008 for Pitt’s total deficit in home losses to equal the number of points by which it lost Tuesday.
With forward Ryan Luther out with a foot injury, leaving the Panthers with just two capable big men, the matchup against the Cardinals, who have four players in their rotation standing at least 6 feet 9, always was going to be problematic.
That disparity was plainly obvious virtually from the opening tip, as Anas Mahmoud, Louisville’s 7-foot center, scored eight points in the opening 5:45, helping his team jump to a 17-5 lead. The Cardinals ultimately took a 51-18 advantage into halftime. Pitt made just four of its 25 shots (16 percent) in the first half, the third-worst shooting performance in a half in program history.
The situation only grew more dire as the game continued. With 14:27 remaining, and his team trailing by 41, Stallings was ejected for arguing with an official shortly after forward Sheldon Jeter fouled out of the game. Given how the game was progressing, being forced to leave the sideline and no longer witness the ongoing mess was likely more of a reward than a punishment.
As tough of a matchup as the long and skilled Cardinals were for an undersized and undermanned Pitt team, the more taxing pairing may be the ongoing marriage between Stallings and his players.
After the loss, Stallings spoke of fragmentation he has witnessed within his team, though he said that animus isn’t directed toward the coaches. He said even the most basic concepts, such as competing hard on a daily basis and being there for one another, haven’t fully taken hold with his players.
He denied, however, that the Panthers’ performance was a reflection of players rebelling against their coach’s critical and public comments.
“They don’t care about that stuff,” Stallings said. “I didn’t tell you anything I don’t tell them. I’m just honest. I come in here and tell you stuff every week and have since the very beginning. I’m honest with them. C’mon, man — that was an embarrassment. It was an embarrassment for me. It was embarrassing that was a product of my work. It’s embarrassing to me and should be embarrassing to them. They’ll tell you the same thing.”
A team that, three weeks ago, was riding high after a win against a top-15 Virginia team now is left searching for answers that their coach acknowledged aren’t readily apparent and might not be for some time.
The list of solutions is dwindling, with some of the most recent attempts at finding one, such as Stallings’ biting words, flopping in unfathomable and historic ways. The man on the other sideline Tuesday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, has seen those same situations unfold before, going back a quarter-century when he took over a Kentucky team recovering from massive sanctions that featured just six scholarship players.
The answers in even the most dire of circumstances, to him, come from within, something that may only console Pitt so much as it tries to salvage what is suddenly spiraling into a lost season.
“Coaches can give all the speeches they want, but it has to come from within, from the players,” Pitino said. “They’ve got to say ‘Hey, it’s our last year. We’ve got to make this tournament, we’ve got to get on a run. We’re going to do it.’ When you get knocked down, you judge players’ value on how they get up. You’ll find out what Pitt’s like with how they get up.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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