PITTSBURGH — Pitt held off a late charge to beat Slippery Rock, 71-59, in an exhibition game at Petersen Events Center on Saturday.
It wasn’t a pretty win from the Panthers, who led by 15 in the second half, but had to survive a late 10-2 run by Slippery Rock that cut the Pitt lead to four points with under four minutes to play.
But the point of the game for the Panthers was not to merely come away with a victory. It was the Panthers only shot at a preseason tuneup before regular season play begins next Friday at Navy.
In that regard, head coach Kevin Stallings got a good look at his squad, with eight players seeing 10 minutes or more of playing time and every scholarship player getting into the action with the exception of injured freshman guard Khameron Davis.
Part of the goal was to get the team used to the realities of shooting and playing in a building full of fans against a real opponent as opposed to what happens at practice every day. That took some doing, as Slippery Rock led by eight in the first half while Pitt sputtered out of the gate.
“That was very much what I expected in terms of a jittery, shaky beginning, with four guys on the court that were playing their first Division I basketball game when we stared the game,” Stallings said.
The offense, in particular, looked toothless in the first 20 minutes, with Putt shooting 32.3 percent from the floor. But Pitt’s defense was able to keep the game close until the offense could get going.
“Even when we went through bad stretches on offense, our defense kept playing and kept playing, which was really encouraging to see,” Stallings said.
Pitt ended up getting an extensive look at the Panthers’ three young big men, as senior forward Ryan Luther got himself into early foul trouble, meaning that freshmen Terrell Brown, Peace Illegomah and Shamiel Stevenson had to shoulder a lot of the load underneath.
Stevenson played 27 minutes, and scored 16 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds. Stevenson is only 6-foot-6, but he’s going to be one of Pitt’s primary options at the power forward spot. He can certainly score, going 4 of 6 from the floor and contributing one 3-pointer and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
The question mark for Stevenson will be whether he can handle some of the bigger men that roam the ACC at that position. Stallings thinks he has some physical traits beyond his height that can give him an advantage.
“The good news is that Shamiel has got a 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11 wingspan,” Stallings said. “So in addition to having kind of a big butt — and I say that very affectionately — and some thickness, he’s got some length and some girth.”
Stevenson’s big day helped Pitt beat Slippery Rock and is also a portend of good things when it comes to being able to absorb foul trouble among the team’s big men. In addition to Luther’s issues, Kene Chukwuka fouled out in 16 minutes.
“If you told me our best player (Luther) was going to have five points and no rebounds and play 21 minutes because of foul problems, I would have been very concerned about the outcome,” Stallings said. “Shamiel stepped in and did a nice job. … He was light-years better today than when we played Villanova.”
After Slippery Rock forward Micah Till closed the gap late, it was Stevenson that came through big for the Panthers, with a steal and a three-point play. Pitt never looked back after that and Stallings said the close finish ended up being a good test for his young team.
“It was good that when they got it down to four, we responded, had a great possession offensively, got a layup and a foul,” Stallings said. “That’s a good sign, because there wasn’t any panic or desperation on our part.”
CARR DRIVES THE OFFENSE
Marcus Carr started and played 30 minutes in what should be an expected role for the freshman point guard. He didn’t anything special shooting, going 4-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He had three assist and three turnovers and distributed the ball well all game.
“Marcus is a good player. He’s a mature guy,” Stallings said. “He’s a winner. He wasn’t spectacular by his standard, but he was just sort of who he is. Just good, tough, solid, winning plays, leader. Good guy to have out there. A guy I have a real comfort with.”
Jonathan Milligan played the other 10 minutes at point guard, giving Carr a breather and a veteran option for Stallings to turn to if the young point guard should falter.
MEET THE NEW GUYS
Jared Wilson-Frame and Stevenson spoke with the media after the win.