PITTSBURGH — Pitt suffered its sixth straight loss, a 67-60 home-court beating at the hands of Clemson to fall to 1-7 in the ACC and put the Panthers in sole possession of last place in the conference.
The game had provided hope of the Panthers snapping their losing streak at home before a brutal road trip takes them to North Carolina, Duke and Boston College.
“This is one that we should have won and one that we really needed,” Cameron Johnson said after the loss, and while his head coach agreed with that sentiment, the saw some things in the play that gave him hope that the rest of the season won’t be a total washout.
“We’re disappointed, obviously,” Stallings said. “I thought we competed a lot harder and a lot smarter today than we had in previous games.”
The bugaboo for the Panthers in the majority of these recent games has been a long opponent run and that trend continued against the Tigers, who started the second half on a 10-0 run. Stallings called time out and went to his bench twice but was unable to stop it from ballooning to a 19-4 advantage that put the Panthers’ hopes in serious jeopardy.
“The start of the second half was our undoing. We’re a team that can’t have a bad three or four-minute stretch. We don’t have that kind of margin for error.” Stallings said. “We come out the start of the second half and in the first 4 minutes, we give up 14 points. As is the case with us, when start giving it up on defense, then we tend to get more individualistic on offense and then that’s when bad things happen to us.”
Pitt was shooting 7.1 percent from the floor at one point in the second half and finished the period 5 of 28 (17.9 percent). Suffice to say, the Panthers are not talented enough at other parts of the game to shoot that poorly and still come away with a win.
“We’re a team with a small margin for error,” Stallings said. “It’s amazing that we shot as poorly as we did in the second half and we even had a chance to win the game.”
TOO MANY JUMPERS
The Panthers shot a respectable 8 for 24 from beyond the arc, accounting for 24 points. They scored 10 in the paint and 16 at the free-throw line, meaning the Panthers made just five 2-point jump shots all afternoon.
“We’re a team that while we can’t rely on the jump shot, we have to make jump shots, because we don’t have an inside presence that we can just go in and go over people because we’re not big enough,” Stallings said. “We’re reliant upon jump shots. We need to make jump shots. We didn’t make them today.”
Pitt, simply put, isn’t good enough to survive awful shooting performances, but there are some things they can do to stop one from happening in progress.
“When the jump isn’t falling, we have to drive the basketball and create some contact,” Jamel Artis said. “I think we did that in the second half, we got some free throws and some easy points.”
But Johnson thought it took the team too long to make the adjustment, and by the time they had, they were in catchup mode.
“We missed a couple jump shots, they hit a couple and we went from up five to down 10 pretty quick,” Johnson said. “We need to get the ball to the basket. Once we did, we got to the foul line and score a bunch. we need to take that more often.”
Stallings was pleased with his team’s effort throughout. Even during the long Clemson run, Stallings thought his players were playing with the proper amount of effort.
“We did play much harder. We played with more intensity, more purpose,” he said. “We didn’t play well enough to win but we certainly played a lot harder.”
Part of plan to get more out of his starters was to go to a 10-man rotation, with the second team coming in as a full unit. Stallings told his starters ahead of time what to expect.
“I asked the starters to try to play hard enough to get tired — which we did not do against Louisville,” Stallings said. “I told them, ‘The subs were coming in no matter what, so you might as well go out there and try as hard as you can. Don’t conserve anything.’”
“It definitely helped us, the fact that they came in and really contributed, allowed us to get a break and come back in,” Johnson said.
The second group didn’t do a lot of scoring, but they didn’t let the game get out of hand, either, giving Stallings hope that he will be able to use them more going forward if he doesn’t feel that he’s getting top effort from his starters.
“I’m not going to keep guys in anymore that are not at least attempting their very best at what we’re asking them to do,” he said.
Michael Young had another subpar shooting day, going 3 of 16 from the floor. He’s been extremely hit or miss since a broken orbital bone forced to him to put on a mask for the Miami game.
He went 0 for 10 against the Hurricanes, but bounced back with a 9 for 19 night at NC State and a 2 for 9 performance against Louisville. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said that taking away Young’s options — particularly inside — was a big part of the game plan.
“We doubled Young on post feeds and we tried to get the ball out of his hands,” Brownell said. We did not want him to have time and space to make plays. He is so strong and talented. I thought our defense was effective.”
“We’re very dependent on Mike and Jamel to score,” Stallings added. “When the other teams in this league have players that can defend them effectively and baskets don’t come easy, now there has to be more of a reliance on system and scheme and that kind of thing.”
Stallings was again quick to point out that he wasn’t questioning Young’s effort or intensity — just that those things weren’t translating to success on the court.
“There’s a guy that was in here at 7:30 this morning,” Stallings here. “We have pregame meal at 8:30 and he’s in there at 7:30 trying to get shots up. You think he’s not trying his ass off? You think it’s not important for him to try to play well? He was 3 for 16. He didn’t have a good day. The kid prepared to win.”
Stallings had said on Tuesday after the Louisville game that he was considering taking back some of the offensive freedom he had provided the team at the beginning of the season. That played out a little bit on Saturday with Stallings making more calls from the bench on offense.
“I tried to call more plays and more sets to where we would get the ball in specific positions — things to get the ball inside a little bit more or drive it a little bit more,” he said. “Some of that helped, I think.”
Clemson star Jaron Blossomgame led all scorers with 25 points. … Jonathan Milligan scored all six of Pitt’s bench points. … Sheldon Jeter had just three points and has been in double figures just once in Pitt’s six-game slide. … Assistant coach Jeremy Ballard missed the game with an illness.