Pitt loses to Georgia Tech in familiarly inconsistent fashion
February 28, 2017 11:07 PM
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
After weeks of debate over its NCAA tournament credentials, the loss puts a .500 finish and potential National Invitation Tournament berth in serious peril for Pitt.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA — For Pitt’s players and coaches alike — whether it’s Kevin Stallings lamenting another difficult loss at his post-game news conference or a somber group of players trudging out of the locker room — many of their worst moments this season have come from a common script.
They can play with most anyone in the country, but also can lose to most anyone. They can build up the most seemingly insurmountable lead only to watch it vanish. And when it feels like they most need a play, the kind that proves to be the difference between a win and a loss, they can’t seem to get it, no matter how hard they might try.
What has devolved into a frustrating and inconsistent season for the Panthers the past two months witnessed another frustrating and inconsistent loss Tuesday night, a 61-52 setback against Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 ACC) at McCamish Pavilion that put them at .500 only 52 days after they sported a 12-3 record.
Thirty games into his first season at the school, Stallings saw a continuation of what has irked him for much of the past four months, including a lack of execution from a group, he said after the game, which sometimes lacks coachability.
“If the coach says run a play, how about just run the play?” Stallings said. “How about just don’t come down and charge before you give the play a chance to unfold? It’s a lot of things. It’s staying in your stance on defense. It’s staying between your man and the goal. It’s seeing the ball when you’re away from the defense. There are a lot of things that go into it. I get it. I get where they’re at. I get where we’re at in the season. It’s kind of a pride thing at this point. I just had hoped we would play a little better.”
After weeks of debate over its NCAA tournament credentials, the loss puts a .500 finish and potential National Invitation Tournament berth in serious peril for Pitt (15-15, 4-13). Unless it is able to upset No. 23 Virginia Saturday on the road, it would need to win at least two games in the ACC tournament to have a non-losing record.
Michael Young led a group of three players in double figures with a team-high 16 points, but the Panthers offense was too often sluggish and disjointed against Division I’s seventh-most-efficient defense. The Yellow Jackets zone defense applied constant pressure on the perimeter, but that aggressiveness in the backcourt usually left them thin down low, something that Pitt seldom exploited in a game in which it constantly settled for outside jumpers instead of attacking the rim. It shot just 37.7 percent in the game, committed 13 turnovers and finished with its fourth-lowest point total of the season. Cam Johnson and Jamel Artis added 13 and 12 points, respectively, but the combined 28 points from Young and Artis — the ACC’s first and fourth-leading scorers, respectively, entering the night — was their fourth-lowest total of the season.
“As much as anything else, it was our ball care and our direction,” Stallings said. “For us to shoot 10 free throws, that’s terrible for us. We get to the line a lot usually, even when we lose. Rather than taking it in there and try to grind it and get it to the goal, we were settling or making a higher-risk pass or something like that. We didn’t execute the way we needed to.”
A feature of what feels like most of their games in ACC play, the Panthers went a stretch of 9:24 with just one made field goal and three points early in the second half, allowing Georgia Tech to take a 40-33 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Pitt responded with two 3s in the span of 44 seconds to get within one and remained in a tight battle, trailing by just two, 54-52, with two minutes remaining. It was then, though, that Josh Okogie made a mid-range jumper to double his team’s advantage and Ben Lammers added a dunk on Georgia Tech’s ensuing possession.
A team that has spoken of and exhibited what it’s capable of, even during stretches as rotten as its eight-game losing streak, showed in yet another loss — its fourth in the past five games — that there’s always another, less savory side to that potential.
“It’s just the way we’ve been losing,” Johnson said. “It can take a toll on you. It’s just frustrating, very frustrating. Games that we should have won, games that we had, games where we were up most of the first half, where we’d build a big lead and let it go in the second half.”
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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