PITTSBURGH — Pitt had to play The City Game against their not-quite-all-the-way-across-town rivals on Friday without the services of starting senior point guard Jamel Artis.
Artis was suspended for one game to due to “failing to uphold the standards of a University of Pittsburgh basketball player,” according to a statement released by head coach Kevin Stallings just before the game.
Without Artis, the Panthers gave unquestionably their worst performance of the season, losing 64-55 to give the Dukes the City Game title for the first time since 2000.
In Artis’ absence, senior forward Michael Young tried to do it all for the team, and he mostly succeeded, in the first half, shooting 70 percent from the floor and leading all scorers.
In the second half, Young couldn’t get the job done.
He made just one shot from the field in the second half and went 1 for 11 for four points after having scored 15 in the opening 20 minutes. Stallings felt that Young may have been trying to do a little bit too much offensively with the team trailing and his usual partner out of uniform.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a game where Mike’s been off,” Stallings said. “He just didn’t have a good night. … It’s unfair to put the pack on his shoulders every night and expect him to be able to deliver at the rate he’s delivering. We need probably Mike to do what he normally does and some other guys a little bit more.”
“We all knew that we had to step it up a little bit more,” said senior guard Chris Jones. “We came out and they competed harder than us.”
Stallings said that Artis is expected to return to the lineup for Pitt’s next game on Wednesday against Buffalo.
GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
While the result won’t have a particularly large impact on the fate of Pitt’s 2016-17 season, it was a pretty frightening glimpse at what could lie ahead for the Panthers. Tasked with filling in for the absent Artis, Pitt’s underclass frontcourt couldn’t get the job done.
Damon Wilson started the game, but played just nine minutes and scored only two points. Justice Kithcart was given more of a chance and started the second half, but only attempted one shot (a miss) in 15 minutes. Jonathan Milligan played seven minutes and missed both of his 3-point attempts.
Stallings eventually settled on redshirt senior Jones at the point guard spot, and he finished with a respectable 11 points on 4 of 6 shooting. But the inability of any of the young guards to step up when needed in a big-time way is very troubling for the future.
“It wasn’t like they weren’t trying to produce and to do their best,” Stallings said. “They were out there competing and doing what they could do. Tonight, along with the rest of the guys I put in the game with them, it wasn’t good enough.”
With Jones at the point, Ryan Luther moved into the lineup inside and slid Michael Young and Cameron Johnson up a spot. It’s a tall lineup from top to bottom, but that might end up being Pitt’s best option for the rest of the season when Artis is unable to go. It’s a scenario Stallings has prepared for, even before the floundering of his young guards Friday.
“In practice, coach will sometimes put me at that spot,” Jones said. “I felt comfortable with it.”
Jones has his limitations as a player — he’s not a particularly good outside shooter — but he definitely proved that he has more to give than the younger players for the time being. His dribble-drives in the second half was one of the few things working for the Panthers and Stallings said he was the only Pitt player to play near his capability.
Doubly troubling for the play of the Panthers backcourt was the fact that not a single payer proved to be an effective 3-point shooter. Even usually reliable Cameron Johnson was a subpar 1 for 7. Young and Sheldon Jeter both went 1 for 4. The rest of the team? 0 for 11.
In a game the team was trailing for most of the second half, the inability to bring home some 3-point trips really set the Panthers back.
“We didn’t shoot it well enough and we didn’t do anything well enough offensively to win the game,” Stallings said.
LET DOWN GAME?
Pitt was coming off it’s biggest victory and best performance of the season in a big time win at Maryland on Tuesday, and Stallings felt that there was a bit of a let-down in his team.
“I sensed it a little bit today at our shoot around,” Stallings said. “I sensed it in the locker room.”