PITTSBURGH — Kevin Stallings is now responsible for the worst loss in nearly 111 years of Pitt basketball. At least, most of it.
Stallings was ejected from the game for arguing with a referee with 14:27 left in the second half, but at that point, the outcome of the game was already clear. The only question would be how the bad the final score would be, and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino showed little mercy for the punchless Panthers as his Cardinals rolled to a 106-51 victory, setting a Pitt modern-era record for the worst loss in team history, bested only by a 93-point defeat at the hands of Westminster in 1906.
While the figure Pitt lost by will just become a piece of trivia, it’s clear that something has drastically changed with this Pitt team. Wins over Maryland and Virginia now seem to have taken place years ago and there has to be more to the team’s current slide than just the loss of injured forward Ryan Luther.
For that matter, they go beyond the team’s ridiculous roster construction, with no true point guard and no center and the fact they have only six healthy players proven to be able to play ACC basketball — and one of them is wearing a face mask that has clearly affected his play. No, when a team loses by 55 points — even against a team as dangerous as the No. 13 Cardinals — there is far more to it than any of those structural issues. This was a failure on all fronts
“That’s about as disappointing of a performance as I could possible imagine,” head coach Kevin Stallings said after the loss. “It’s embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. It’s my responsibility to have them prepared to play better than that, harder than that, smarter than that.”
The team was beaten in pretty much every facet of the game that’s statically measurable. They shot 16 percent in the first half and had twice as many turnovers (eight) as field goals (four). They allowed the Cardinals to shoot 71.4 percent from the floor in the first half and 77.8 from beyond the 3-point line as Louisville jumped out to a 51-18 lead in the first 20 minutes.
“I think one thing that this team has consistently shown is the inability to deal with adversity,” Stallings said. “Honestly, since Ryan [Luther] went down with the injury and since Mike [Young] has been less than what he was earlier in the season, there almost seems to be a feeling amongst the players. I quite frankly don’t understand that. I don’t understand how you don’t dig in and compete harder. We’ll just keep trying to find answers, but not having Ryan Luther shouldn’t cause this much of a drop off. He’s an important player to us, for sure.”
Stallings mentioned that some of the things that have happened to his team have snowballed into other problems, as he’s had to change his defense to suit his depleted bench and is unable to punish players for lack of effort with a benching due to a lack of other options.
“When we had Ryan, we were able to have enough post depth that we could kind of keep those guys going in and out and keep fresh bodies in there and ACC level players in there,” Stallings said. “But now, what depth we had has really taken a hit. So now you start coaching different things. You start playing more zone to protect guys with fouls. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t feel good right now. It won’t change if the guys wearing the uniforms don’t come together and fight a lot harder than they fought tonight.”
Pitt had a razor-thin margin for error this season when it came to depth, and they’ve played like a team that thinks they don’t have a chance to compete since he’s been out of the lineup.
“At times, I have a hard time understanding,” Stallings said. “They’re not bad kids. I like them. They’re nice kids. … We showed signs of this in the non-conference when we would have 25-point leads and be hanging on to win games against inferior people. This didn’t just happen.”
Stallings admitted that he’s felt some “fragmentation” in the locker room, and when asked if he is losing the team, said, “I sure hope not. I don’t know.”
Stallings earned two technical fouls at the same time to earn his ejection while arguing with one of the referees over a call on forward Sheldon Jeter, who had fouled out. Stallings said “heck no” when asked if it was the first time he had been ejected, but wouldn’t discuss the situation further, citing his lack of familiarity with the ACC’s rules regarding criticism of officials.
“I don’t know what league policy is here, so I’d better refrain from saying too much so that I don’t violate anything,” he said.
Pitt’s offensive ineptitude in the first half was historic, as well, with the Panthers’ 16 percent shooting percentage the third-worst in team history. Stallings said the team focused too much on outside shooting and he took some of the blame for giving the players the offensive freedom to do so at times.
“The first possession or so of the game, we came out and did exactly what we practiced,” Stallings said. “For the next five minutes, we would set the ball screen and instead of rolling in like we had talked about and getting the ball inside, I’m looking at five guys on the perimeter. Guys just want to shoot jump shots. I do take responsibility for this. It’s a team that just lives through their jump shot. That’s my fault. When we started missing shots, once again, our defense reflects our lack of offense and we get the big snowball going the other way.”
As a response, Stallings said that he’s discussing taking away some of those freedoms going forward.
“I’m OK with give and take, I really am,” he said. “I want to give these guys freedom and I want to let them play. I’m not OK with take and take. I feel like that’s what we’ve got going right now.”
Stallings had been critical of the leadership of the team and it’s level of buy-in on Monday, but he said that he didn’t think that was the cause of the poor performance.
“[The players] don’t care about that stuff,” he said. “I didn’t tell you anything I don’t tell them. It’s honesty. I come in here and tell you stuff every week. I have since the very beginning. I’m honest with them.”
SHORT ON SOLUTIONS
Stallings didn’t seem like a guy with many answers after the loss. His team’s lack of depth makes wholesale changes unfeasible and he doesn’t even really have many young players that he could play to gain experience. Only Justice Kithcart and Corey Manigault are freshmen, and they played 19 and 10 minutes, respectively while combining for just two points.
“I don’t know what short-term alternatives I have available to me,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like many, honestly. … When I turn around and there’s somebody that’s not playing hard enough defensively — which was perverse the entire evening. I pretty much had my five best defenders starting the game. That’s a bad sign when the other team shoots 71 percent against you in the first half. It’s a bad sign that when you go to the bench, you get worse defensively. “
Stallings seemed to think that the issues that are surrounding the locker room are the things that need to be fixed, because there aren’t a lot of other ways to do it.
“Even under the best of circumstances, we have challenges. We’re not very quick. We’re not very big. We can shoot a little bit sometimes. We don’t guard the ball very well. Everybody knows. We’re not deep.”
If the team is able to turn things back around, it will be because of the players deciding it, not because of anything Stallings does.
“You can lead a horse to water, but once the game starts, it’s on them,” he said. “I have to do a better job of helping them.”