NEW YORK — Michael Young had one final collegiate game to play at Madison Square Garden.
The Pitt senior played his high school ball at St. Benedict’s, just across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey. He attended games in the stands as a teenager and had the chance to play a handful of games on the hardwood at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
In his last hurrah in that arena Friday, Young put on a show, scoring a career-high 30 points to lead his Panthers to a 78-75 come-from-behind victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Pitt was trailing by 11 at the half and was in desperate need of a spark to get things going offensively, having shot 37 percent from the floor in the opening frame. With 13:17 remaining when Young, went to work on a personal 10-0 run that tied the game and ignited the Panthers.
“Mike got on that stretch where he was really unbelievable in the second half,” said head coach Kevin Stallings.
Maybe even more impressively was that Young did the bulk of his damage with Jamel Artis and several of Pitt’s other starters on the bench. It was all Young, and he made it work.
“Jamel was out of the game,” Young said. “When he’s in the game, we just kind of play basketball, play off each other and make the right plays. When he was out of the game, I knew in my mind, it was time for me to be aggressive, time to step up and just be the senior, be the all-ACC guy. I had to be that guy for us tonight.”
The Panthers completely flipped the script from the first half, shooting 60 percent over the final 20 minutes to roar back and overtake the Golden Eagles. Young things the second-half performance is a glimpse of the team Pitt can be going forward.
“I told my team, ‘the second-half team is the team we have to be for 40 minutes a game,’” Young said. “If we can get to that and be that type of team for almost 40 minutes, if we can be that team that you saw in the second half down the stretch when we were getting stops, taking good shots, making big shots, knocking down free throws, if we can be that team, we’ll be the team we know we can be.”
Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski was complimentary of Young’s play, as well.
“That is how senior should play,” he said. “Young, Artis and Jones and 64 points. When they were really struggling, their seniors stepped up big time. I really admire what Michael Young did.”
Here are the full postgame remarks from Artis and Young:
DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES PERSIST
Unlike the first game in New York against Southern Methodist, Stallings stayed almost exclusively with man-to-man defense against Marquette. While the first-half results were more of the same — 48.6 percent for the Golden Eagles — Pitt tightened up to allow just nine filed goals (30 percent) in the second half.
“Defense won the game for us,” Stallings said. “That’s why we won. I’m really proud for them to have dug in the way they did and showed some pride in the second half and played the kind of defense that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have a great year.”
That’s not to say that the first-half issues aren’t troubling for Stallings.
“We have things we need to get better at,” he said. “We’re nowhere close to where we want to be right now. There might be a million reasons for it, but we have to go back and get things shored up rather quickly.”
It looked as if the Panthers were just a bit hesitant and a bit too slow to react to developing plays. I asked Stallings if that could be attributed to the newness of the defense, a premise he rejected.
“It’s not that new to them,” he said. “They’ve been playing their whole life. What I see is a lack of concentration, a lack of anticipation. It’s all reactionary. We’re not thinking ahead as to what might happen and how we think we can best defend it.
“We have to play with passion and energy on the defensive end to win. Our physical attributes are not that we’re suffocating, at least not yet. Maybe we can make some adjustments along the way and we can figure out a way to become a really good defensive team, but right now, we’re not a great defensive team.”
Young and Artis (21 points) again shouldered the bulk of the offensive load for the Panthers, but unlike Thursday night, they got solid contributions from other players to keep things going.
Chris Jones had 13 points, seven of them in the second half, and Ryan Luther had eight points and five rebounds in an expanded role due to Sheldon Jeter’s foul trouble. Playing on back-to-back days, Stallings elected to expand the bench, playing Damon Wilson 14 minutes. Jonathan Milligan, Rozelle Nix and Corey Manigault also saw time.
“That’s what we need,” Young said. “Me and Jamel, we’re going to carry a lot of the load, but we can’t to it ourselves. We need every single one of those guys.”
Pitt trailed at the half and came back to win just once in the entire 2015-16 season. To do it with an 11-point deficit on a neutral court was even more impressive. That’s the upside of the style of play Stallings has chose. These Panthers should never be totally out of a game, because they have the freedom and talent to put on a show offensively.
“We’ve got scorers,” Artis said. “Me and Mike, we’re a tough duo. We can run with anybody in the country. I believe that.”
It was certainly a tale of two half for the Panthers, but Stallings deflected any credit for being the difference-maker at the break to a less prominent member of his staff.
“I didn’t say a whole lot more than what I’ve been saying, but one of our GA’s who played at Pitt, who’s got a lot of Pitt basketball pride in his chest, he had a couple things to say at halftime,” Stallings said. “Ontario Lett, he used the pride word a few times. I say that’s why we played better. I don’t think it was anything I said. I think it was what Ontario said because he got mad and I asked him to say something.”