PITTSBURGH — In Saturday’s 82-65 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels, Pitt point guard Jamel Artis passed Carl Krauser to become the 12th leading scorer in program history. With three games to play, there’s a good chance he joins teammate Mike Young — who is currently 7th — in the team’s top 10.
Young and Artis are first and third in the ACC in scoring. Sheldon Jeter is on track to become just the second player in Pitt history to lead the team in blocks, rebounds and steals.
While the individual accolades remain impressive for the group of four seniors that walked before the crowd at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday, they’ve consistently failed to come through when it comes to winning, as the Panthers’ meager NCAA Tournament hopes were almost completely extinguished at the hands of the Tar Heels.
The only way forward would be an upset run in the ACC Tournament, where Pitt will play in the opening round, as the Panthers can finish no higher than 12th place. For all of the promise that this class brought, they’ll leave with just one NCAA Tournament win and two appearances in their four years.
“It’s disappointing, obviously,” head coach Kevin Stallings said after the loss. “I feel bad for our seniors. I certainly didn’t want them to go out in this fashion. They’ve meant a lot to this program and have accomplished a lot, both individually and as a group. I feel badly for them, that we couldn’t put together a better game today to make this a bit more competitive.”
“Obviously, we would have liked to come out with a win and it’s very disappointing,” added Artis. “We thought we had a good chance to win, but we didn’t go out and play as hard as we could have. I think we learned how important the defensive side and rebounding are to winning a game.”
While there was disappointment all around at the way the season has gone for the Panthers, Saturday’s result was hardly one to feel shame about. The Tar Heels clinched a share of the ACC Tournament with their victory and are one of the top teams in the country. When they put their minds to it, they can outplay almost any team in the country and they had one of their best games of the season against the Panthers.
“We were beaten by a better basketball team,” Stallings said. “They’re deeper than we are. They did what they do very, very well today.”
In particular, the Panthers had no answer for the shooting of Justin Jackson, who sank 9 of 20 and 5 of 11 from beyond the arc as part of his 23 points. When Jackson missed, the UNC interior was able to rebound at a dominant level. Led by Kennedy Meeks’ 10 boards, the Tar Heels out-rebounded the Panthers, 48-28. On the offensive glass, the imbalance was even more strongly felt. North Carolina had 24 offensive rebounds, while Pitt had just 19 defensive rebounds. That helped the Tar Heels to 28 second-chance points.
Stallings attributed the lack of rebounding on the team playing more zone defense and the lack of Jeter’s presence, as he was limited to 17 minutes because of early foul trouble before eventually fouling out.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges,” Stallings said. “We’re not sitting at 4-12 in the conference because we’re the deepest, most talented team.”
There’s no question that Pitt has talent. Artis and Young are two of the most dynamic players in the conference. But in the ACC, it takes more than just a little bit of talent. It’s clear that this group of seniors, talented as they are, were not enough for Pitt to produce a successful season on their own. That alone could be discouraging. The way the team lost some of the games they have — in overtime against Notre Dame, a last-second shot off the mark at North Carolina, painful collapses against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest — they could easily break the spirit of the squad. But the seniors say that still isn’t the case.
“We want to finish out strong,” Artis said. “We can’t give up right now, we still have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We’re going to keep practicing hard, watching film, and putting in extra work in the gym. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to play our heart out for these next few games.”