PITTSBURGH — Pitt survived another non-conference scare, holding off the Yale Bulldogs, 75-70 on Tuesday night. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Panthers did some things well against the Ivy League’s best, and they learned a few lessons, as well.
Here’s my five takeaways from Pitt’s fourth win of the season.
NO NIGHTS OFF
When non-power-conference teams come into Petersen Events Center, you’ll usually see a quote from the opposing coach talking about how they couldn’t deal with Pitt’s size inside.
That won’t be the case this year. First of all, Pitt doesn’t have much size, with Michael Young the biggest regular at 6-foot-9. The other thing is that the Panthers don’t play inside much. Their offense spreads the floor and uses penetration and cuts to get people open, not post play. In this one, the physical edge went to the Bulldogs, who had a 10-7 advantage on the offensive glass.
That means that Pitt can’t sleepwalk through any of their non-conference games. Every game is going to require a 40-minute effort and Young and Jamel Artis are going to have to score. The degree of difficulty has been ramped up, as well, according to Young.
“It’s a little bit different this year for me than in the past years,” Young said. “It’s good to get some close games. We went to New York and had two really good games and this is a good game for us. Later down the line, when conference play comes, it will really help us. … This year, the schedule is tougher than any other year.”
Pitt has Morehead State up next — a team they played a year ago — and then travels to Maryland.
THIRD MAN IN
Kevin Stallings said he was looking for a third scorer to join Jamel Artis and Young. Young had 24, Artis had 20 and Cameron Johnson stepped up with 15, including four three-pointers. Yale had changed to a zone to try to combat Young inside, and Johnson immediately made them pay.
“It makes a huge difference because it stretches the defense out and spaces it,” Stallings said. “It takes a load off those two other guts who are doing yeoman’s work right now. Chris [Jones] didn’t have his best night, Shedon [Jeter] didn’t have his night, but Cam came through when they went zone. He did what Cam is supposed to do when they go zone: get open and in position to get off good looks at the basket.”
The Panthers were an excellent free-throw shooting team last season, and that seems to be the case this year, as well. They made 18 of 23 from the charity stripe and were able to continue to get free looks thanks to an aggressive Yale defense.
“We took the ball strong to the rim and got them in foul trouble,” Stallings said. “We were able to get ourselves to the could line and it ended up being the difference in the game, probably.”
TROUBLE WITH THE PRESS
Pitt seemed to have trouble with Yale’s press late in the game, and without a true point guard, that’s not much of a surprise. But Stallings didn’t seem to see it that way.
“The press didn’t give us any trouble, honestly. We threw the ball right to the middle of the floor — right where we wanted to throw it — we took a dribble and we tried to throw it to somebody in the Zoo. It wasn’t the press that caused that. It was a brain fart.”
But whether Stallings thinks it was the press or not, Pitt allowed Yale to cut a nine-point lead to three points in about two minutes. With press-heavy Louisville looming early in the ACC schedule, Pitt’s going to have to figure something out.
The player that’s most likely the answer there is freshman point guard Justice Kithcart, but he remained on the bench at the end of the game, with Artis and Jones handling the ball. One of the reasons for that is likely Kithcart’s struggles from the free-throw line this season. With Yale trapping and then fouling if an opponent broke through, Pitt couldn’t afford to have a poor free-throw shooter on the floor.
The rest of Kithcart’s game isn’t exactly taking off, either. He played 15 minutes, but had no points (0 for 2) and just two assists. That’s not going to get it done when then Panthers play deeper opponents.
The other options at guard aren’t playing much better either. Kithcart, Damon Wilson and Jonathan Milligan combined to play 27 minutes and scored three points — a Milligan 3-pointer.