ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Pitt opened the 2017-18 season with a disappointing 71-62 loss to Navy on Friday, but with seven players making their Division I debuts and eight playing their first game in the Panthers’ blue and gold, there’s plenty to glean from the Pitt’s first outing of the year.
As always, here’s my Five Takeaways from Pitt’s road loss:
CARR IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
Freshman point guard Marcus Carr did not start after practicing just once this week with a mild ankle injury suffered in last weekend’s exhibition victory over Slippery Rock. In his place, redshirt senior Jonathan Milligan got the starting nod.
But make no mistake, Carr is the team’s starting point guard. The freshman played 31 minutes off the bench, and scored 12 points by going 3 for 5 from 3-point range and 3-for-3 at the free-throw line.
The only problem was that all of Carr’s points came in the first half. In the second half, he played 17 minutes without making a basket, as Pitt’s overall offense ground itself to a halt. Most teams need their point guard playing at a high level for their offense to click, and Pitt seems to be no exception to that regard. Most true freshmen are also inconsistent performers. If Carr is going to drive Pitt’s offense, he can’t have the kind of slump he had in the second half Friday night.
“He shot the ball so well in the first half and then they tightened up on him in the second half,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought he took a couple of ill-advised ones.”
Pitt essentially lost the game during an 0 for 14 stretch to start the second half when Navy went on an 11-1 run to pull away for good after going into the break up one.
“That really was the game, even though we were able to come back and make it close,” Stallings said.
But he also hasn’t seen anything in practice to suggest that streaky shooting might be a continuous issue for his Panthers.
“I wasn’t concerned about a 10-minute drought, I can tell you that,” Stallings said.
Jared Wilson-Frame said the message on the floor during the drought was not about the offense, but he defense.
“Just really stick to our principles and get stops,” he said. “Anytime you go through an offensive drought, I think that’s the main thing: trying to focus on defense and then sharpening up the execution on offense.”
But Stallings wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall level of execution on defense, either. The Midshipmen shot 43.6 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from 3-point range. The Pitt man-to-man defense seemed vulnerable to dribble-drives and then the Midshipmen dished passes back out to the arc after the Pitt defense collapsed to help.
“I thought we would guard their drive better than we guarded it,” Stallings said.
Freshman shooting guard Parker Stewart did start and he played 21 minutes, but was held off the scoresheet altogether. Stewart is one of Pitt’s most talented outside shooters and he got five good looks from 3-point range, but clanged all five.
Stewart also had a rough day shooting in the exhibition against Slippery Rock, when he went 1 for 5 from 3-point range. Carr and Jared Wilson-Frame can also shoot from 3-point range, but the outside shooting is Stewart’s key to playing time.
On Wednesday, Stallings told an anecdote from practice about Stewart taking and missing a shot from six feet beyond the arc. After Stewart missed, Stallings made sure to tell him that’s a shot he’s comfortable with his young guard taking.
It’s very early, but Stewart isn’t lacking talent. Perhaps the young man needs a jolt of confidence to get his offensive game going.
Shamiel Stevens was ejected from the game for a flagrant-2 foul with 40 second remaining in the game. He shoved a Navy player to the ground with a forearm to the back, not only drawing the foul, but giving Navy two free throws and the ball, essentially icing the victory.
“That’s not who we are and that kind of thing shouldn’t have happened,” Stallings said.
It was part of a strange game for Stevenson. He lined up in the wrong spot on the opening tip off and had to be corrected by the officials. Stallings spent much of the game shouting his name from the Pitt bench, but Stevenson ended up with seven points and a team-high nine rebounds in 30 minutes.
VIDEO, NOTES, ETC
The season-opening loss was Pitt’s first since 1996, when Stallings’ Illinois State team beat Pitt at the Fitzgerald Field House. Pitt went on to go 18-15 that year and tied for second in the Big East. … The last time Pitt lost to Patriot League opponent was the following game, when Pitt lost 60-49 at Navy. … The win was the first for Navy over an ACC opponent since Dec. 30, 1971, when the Midshipmen beat Wake Forest. … Pitt returns home to face Montana on Monday and UC-Santa Barbara on Wednesday before heading to New York for the Legends Classic on Monday and Tuesday.