PITTSBURGH — The home part of Pitt’s 2017-18 season got off to an ignominious start with an 83-78 overtime loss to Montana on Monday. The Panthers trailed for most of the game, tied things up late, but couldn’t come up with a clutch shot with a couple of chances late in overtime.
While it was a close, back-and-forth game throughout and the Panthers tied the game late to force overtime, you couldn’t tell by the reaction of the Petersen Events Center faithful. That’s because just 3,102 filed through the turnstiles, the lowest-attended men’s basketball game in the history of the building.
On the back page of the Pitt media guide, there’s a laundry list of plaudits for the 15-year-old building. The Panthers have the 10th-best home court record in the NCAA, it was rated the No. 2 game atmosphere in college basketball by USA Today in 2013 — just four years ago. Two years ago, Fansided.com ranked it the 11th-hardest place to play in the country.
Now, it’s no harder to play in than your local YMCA. The atmosphere was stark. It felt like they invited the band and the Oakland Zoo — or at least half of it — to practice. Head coach Kevin Stallings was asked if he felt like he had the support of the fanbase.
“I don’t think about that,” he said. “I support my team. I’m just worried about making my team better. I hope so. I hope these guys have the support of the fanbase. They certainly deserve it. They’re good kids.”
Stallings agreed with the notion that it’s going to take patience from the fanbase in order to see results. With five freshmen and two junior college transfers in the rotation, it’s not going to be a quick process to get the team up to the standard that has been established at Pitt.
“I think that (it will take patience), for sure,” Stallings said. “I could have told you that last year. It’s going to take patience. We’ve had to start over. … I think we have some guys that are going to grow into good players. There’s going to be some growing pains along the way.”
Here’s the thing. While Stallings’ young team will more than likely improve as the season goes on, at least until ACC play starts at the beginning of 2018, the attendance likely will not. Pitt’s home opener traditionally draws several thousand more than the next few games. They only have 3,000 to give. It might end up even worse.
DEFENDING THE DRIVE
For the second straight game, Pitt’s man-to-man was a mess. They allowed too many dribble-drives, again leaving corner 3’s wide open.
“We’ve just got to guard the drive better and be in our gaps better,” senior forward Ryan Luther said. “I thought at times, we did alright, but we were way to inconsistent.”
Stallings agreed that he saw a mostly inconsistent defense, hardly a surprise given the lack of experience on the floor.
“You know, there were times when we defended them well and there were times when we didn’t, Stallings said. “Certainly, when you look up and see that a guy got 29, that’s too many, so we didn’t do a good enough job on [Michael Oguine], for sure. … Sometimes it is not getting into good position or not using fundamentals, sometimes it is when the guy may be quicker than you and gets by you. Sometimes it is youth, because if a guy keeps doing the same thing time after time, you have to learn that lesson and say ‘maybe If he is going right three times in a row, maybe I need to do something and send him back other direction for once.’”
That was a message Stallings reiterated from Friday, when he yelled across the floor at guard Khameron Davis that the player he was guarding had beaten him to the right repeatedly. It’s just one more issue for the Panthers to work out with a young squad.
Pitt finished the game with 12 assists compared to 19 turnovers, and freshmen point guard and primary ball handler Marcus Carr led the way with five turnovers.
“We didn’t take good care of the ball and it resulted in a lot of points for them,” Stallings said. “Our turnovers resulted in points, theirs didn’t. We had a couple of chances where we could have built the lead out. We made two careless turnovers that gave them layups.”
Pitt shot 44.3 percent from the floor and Stallings thought that they probably needed to work the ball around a bit more. They earned assists on fewer than half of their 27 field goals.
“It felt like we were fighting it the whole night,” Stallings said. “I have to clean up the shot selection. We don’t value taking the right kind of shots like we need to yet, and it put us in bad positions defensively to try and guard, so I have to help them have a better understanding of what a good shot and a bad shot is.”
NOTES, VIDEO, ETC.
Pitt snapped a 20-year home opener win streak dating back to 1996, which was also the last time they started 0-2. … The loss was Pitt’s first to an opponent from the Big Sky Conference in five games (4-1).
The Sports Now network is growing! Check out our new site PittsburghHockeyNow.com for the best Pittsburgh Penguins news and opinion.