PITTSBURGH — Pitt sweated out another close one, eking out an 84-79 victory over Buffalo at the Petersen Events Center Wednesday night.
The Panthers’ pitfall was a familiar one.
They jumped out to a big early lead, as they had against Duquesne and Maryland and each of their previous two games.
As they had in each of the previous two games, Pitt eventually cooled off shooting and couldn’t maintain the defensive intensity required to put away an opponent that was on the ropes. Win or lose (Pitt is now 2-1 over the three game stretch) it’s a trend that head coach Kevin Stallings would like to see reversed.
“For 15 minutes to start the game, we played very, very well,” Stallings said. “We seem to be having trouble closing the half. We talked about it. We talked about it in practice. We talked about it at the under-four [minute] timeout. We talked about it being a really important stretch of the game. We proceeded to get outscored, 16-2.”
It’s not exactly a new trend for the Panthers, either. Video coordinator Jason Richards — the lone holdover from Jamie Dixon’s staff — had told Stallings that not putting away teams when they’re down has been an issue with this group in the past.
“If what Jason said is true and I have to believe his is right, it certainly has carried on to this year and I have to figure out how to get it changed,” Stallings said. “It started when we had some subs in and they didn’t get back on defense, gave up a couple layups, threw the ball away and then we brought the starters back in and it continued. I am not sure what it is but that’s a big segment of the game that we talk about all the time that we have to get rectified.”
JETER STEPS UP TO THE PLATE
Asked about the team’s haphazard performance, senior forward Sheldon Jeter took the microphone and stepped up to the plate.
“It was kind of like the Duquesne game except we got off to a much better start,” he said. “We took our foot off of the gas and it carried over to this game. … We’ve gotten a little bit complacent. Offensively, instead of moving, we got stagnant. Defensively, we stopped having the same intensity and that hurt us. … We won this game. Last time this happened, we lost. It is just growing from it and moving on to the next game.”
As Stallings said, the players outside of the team’s top group of six players (the starter and Ryan Luther) did not perform well — offensively or defensively. Justice Kithcart, Corey Manigault, Jonathan Milligan and Damon Wilson contributed no points, just two rebounds and two assists in a combined 23 minutes.
The lack of production and defensive play forced Stallings into playing his best players heavy minutes, with four going over 32 on the game.
“I wish I felt better about going to our bench,” Stallings said. “I don’t think as a whole we’re as deep as we’d like to be. We may have to live with seven [players] unless somebody shows us that they’re capable of giving us the quality minutes that we need.”
‘NOT A GREAT FEELING’
Artis, who returned to the floor after sitting out against Duquesne, said he “learned a tough lesson” from sitting on the sidelines.
“It was difficult to watch the game against a school that we’ve beaten for several years,” he said. “It’s a tough lesson. I’ll learn from it. I let my guys down.”
But when asked what he could take away from his suspension, his answer was a curious one: he needs to be in the lineup.
“I’m pretty valuable to this team,” he said. “I’m a pretty important guy, but there’s other guys on this team that can step up. They should have stepped up that night. It happens.”
SECOND THREE GET GOING
Pitt has relied heavily on Artis and Michael Young offensively and Stallings had expressed a desire to get a third player going offensively. It seems that player is Cameron Johnson, who had 17 points and has now scored double figures in five consecutive games.
But perhaps even more impressively, the second half of the team’s top six came through against Buffalo, as well. Ryan Luther had a season-high 11 and Chris Jones and Jeter each checked in with double digits.
“I really liked our balance,” Stallings said. “It’s nice when neither Mike nor Jamel had their best game, we had four other guys step up.”