NEW YORK — All season long, Pitt has been a jump-shooting team. Sometimes in their favor, but mostly to their detriment. Even in the games they’ve won, there’s been a stretch when the jump shot just wasn’t going for them and they had to sweat out an opposition run.
In Tuesday night’s 61-59 win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, Pitt never seemed to get the 3-point shot going in the early part of the game. Cameron Johnson, the team’s most dangerous 3-point threat, finished the night just 0 for 2.
At the end of the first half, Pitt was winning by three despite, going 1 for 11 from long range. Conventional wisdom would dictate taking less 3-pointers in the second half, something head coach Kevin Stallings has asked of his team in recent weeks.
Instead, the Panthers kept right on shooting, going 5 for 12 from downtown in the second half, and they needed every one of them, as they won by just two points. Back-to-back 3’s from Michael Young and Jamel Artis were the difference-makers, giving Pitt the lead for good with just over 3 minutes to play.
“When we were in the locker room, coach [Tom] Richardson told us. ‘Keep shooting the ball and keep being confident. Be ready to shoot. They’re going to go down’” senior guard Chris Jones recalled. “ I think we believed in that, we went out there and we completed it.”
“We just did a little better job in the second half,” Stallings said. “I think when Chris made one or two, then Mike [Young], you know, you kind of feed off each other. You keep seeing each other miss, then it detracts from your confidence a little bit. When they go in, I think it adds to your confidence.”
The fact that Pitt then gave up the lead late in the second half before regaining on two more 3-pointers really emphasized the value of that confidence.
“I’m going shoot, not matter I’m missing or not,” Artis said. “I just try to try to put that in the back of my head and not think about that on the next shot, just rise up and shoot it. That was a big play. We needed it.”
MORE FROM JONES
The team getting a contribution from Jones was especially big with Johnson getting shut out. Stallings said that even as a fifth-year senior, Jones could look to shoot a little bit more than he has this season.
“That was really nice to see, because he’s the only good player that I know that can go through playing 36 minutes in a game and take one shot,” Stallings said. “We encourage him to be more aggressive. He was tonight. The ball went in for him. We needed all of them.”
ON THEIR TERMS
There was a strong desire from Pitt’s four seniors to not let the end of the season fade away quietly in the five-game losing streak. Beating Georgia Tech won’t go a long way towards erasing the sour taste of the season, but it lets the team have a respectable finish to the year.
“This is it for us — regular season is over,” Young said. We can’t get none of those games back. We just got to move forward. … We believe, our coaches believe, this whole program believe that we can do something special in this tournament. That’s what we came here to do. That’s what I believe we’re going to do.
“Just for the seniors, this is our last go-around. Every game is our last game. If we lose, we go home. We just got to fight. You got to have that desire to play every possession like it’s the last play of the game like it’s your last.”
Pitt held Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers to six points — well shy of his 14.6 points-per-game average. They did it without a post defender that can match him size-wise.
“It’s probably the reason we won the game,” Stallings said. “Ryan Luther helped in that regard. Our guards got switched on him some. We just got down there and fought. We have fought and we helped each other. We played together on defense, just like we tried to play together on offense. It made a big difference.”
Part of the reason Pitt was able to focus on Lammers was the lack of respect they showed the Georgia Tech outside shooters. Often, Yellow Jackets players beyond the 3-point line were almost completely unguarded.
“The amount of packing in that teams did on us. .. I probably have never seen it this packed in on teams, whether I’ve been coached or even seen,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “It’s just not normal to pack it in as much as they do. That’s where we have to get some help on that. Obviously, that’s my job and the assistants’ job to help us in that area in recruiting.”