PITTSBURGH — Earlier this week, Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said that he wanted to get his outside shooters, particularly sophomore Cameron Johnson, some more clean looks from outside.
That happened in a big way Friday night as Johnson went 4 of 7 from 3-point range and the Panthers as a whole shot 11 for 19 to coast to a 76-63 victory over Morehead State at the Petersen Events Center.
As always, here are my five takeaways.
The Panthers’ offense in the first half was just devastating. They were 9 of 12 from 3-point range (75 percent), they shot 51.6 percent from the floor and has 15 assists — one for every basket.
“I thought we did some really good things in the first half, especially in regards to shooting the ball and sharing the ball,” Stallings said. “We moved it around and got open shots. I think that’s why we shot so well from three. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a stat sheet that 100 percent of the baskets were assisted, which we were in the first half.”
It wasn’t just outside-in offense, either. For the first time this season, Pitt got Micheal Young activated on the post to exploit some serious matchup deficiencies the Eagles had. Young responded with another 20-point night, which has become the norm for him and he also added four assists.
As I said above, the Panthers coasted to victory in the second half, and that’s not what Stallings wanted to see. Pitt’s 16-point halftime lead got as narrow as seven in the second half before they pulled away again late. But Stallings is looking for more out of his team in that scenario.
“I was a little disappointed that we had them on the ropes there at halftime and didn’t put them away,” Stallings said. “That was something we talked a lot about. We don’t show any killer instinct yet. We haven’t seen it. We talk about it and we want to get rid of people when we have an opportunity to.”
Stallings has been careful not to be too critical of things done under the previous regime in his time at Pitt thus far, but here, he referenced the past in a pretty prescient way.
“I’m told that this group has historically been this way,” he said. “I’ve got to figure out some ways to get them to change that, get [another] opportunity to put somebody away and get it done.”
MORE THAN OFFENSE
As part of the big first half offensively, reserve guard Jonathan Milligan made three 3-pointers. Milligan is another player besides Johnson that has the ability to be a threat from long range as part of the offensive game plan. But according to Stallings, he’s going to need a better all-around effort if he wants to play more minutes.
“I put him in and he got driven baseline and got beat on a box-out,” Stallings said. “You’ve got to do more than shoot a ball. I love Milligan, love him. He’s one of my favorite guys. He won’t back away from that, he’ll tell you. I gave him a shot in there, and like I said, we can’t just go in and let a guy go by us and give up a layup and give up a box out. There’s more to it. I love seeing him make those shots though because we’ve been waiting for that all season long because Milligan can really make them, and tonight he did. It really helped us in the first half.”
LOOKING IN THE MIRROR
The hot start offensively could be attributed to the work the team has done against a tough, aggressively switching defense like the Eagles’ — their own.
“They do a lot of switching,” Johnson said. “Since we switch, we work against it in practice every day. We knew where the openings would be in that kind of defense.”
TAKING WHAT’S GIVEN
Morehead State interim head coach Preston Spradlin said his team was focused on not letting Pitt get the ball inside — whether it was passes to Young or dribble-drives from Jamel Artis. What they were willing to give up was the outside jump shot.
“We told our kids that if they beat us shooting jumpers, they beat us shooting jumpers,” Spradlin said. “They beat us shooting jumpers.”
The ability to very quickly recognize what the opposing defense is willing to give up and exploit that is the sign of a mature offense — as Pitt should have with four seniors in the starting lineup. The other good sign is that Pitt has done that against a variety of defenses, not just facing one very similar to their own.