PITTSBURGH — The young Panthers learned a lesson on Tuesday, as they went into the halftime break up 22 on Delaware State, which came into the game rated as the 351st team in KenPom.com efficiency ratings out of 351 teams in Division I basketball.
That’s right, dead last.
The Hornets, who came to Pittsburgh and got drummed out of the gym to the tune of a 49-point deficit by Duquesne earlier this month, caught fire in the second half, while the Panthers seemingly let them back into the game with a combination of uninspired defense and cold shooting.
“There’s no way around it, we played a poor second half,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “We played a poor, poor second half on offense, we played a poor second half on offense, we played a poor second half on the boards.”
Stallings didn’t seem particularly surprised by the Jekyll-and-Hyde performance of his young team, which had to experience the feeling of a big halftime lead.
“It’s not any more telling to me that we had to kinda squeak out the win than we had a 22-point lead at halftime,” he said. “What it really shows is what we’ve already known. We’re capable of playing well. We’re capable of not playing well. If we’re not focused and intense and not really on point, we’re not going to look like a very good team. I do think our guys are learning that. Fortunately, we didn’t learn that the real hard way tonight.”
Unfortunately, it’s a lesson learned that probably won’t have much of an impact going forward, because there isn’t another team on the schedule that Pitt will likely be able to put up that kind of lead against at any point in the game. The Panthers host Towson on Friday, which is rated No. 95 by KenPom and then face No. 15 Miami, No. 28 Louisville, No. 36 Virginia Tech and No. 5 Duke. The Panthers are currently rated No. 163.
A WIN IS A WIN
While the second-half performance was certainly disheartening, Stallings and company aren’t going to lose sight of the fact that the Panthers have won two straight and six of their last seven. With the conference schedule approaching, wins may be hard to find going forward, so they’re not going to feel sorry for themselves after needing all 40 minutes to put away Delaware State.
“You either win or you don’t,” Stallings said. “Our guys made enough plays to win. We’ve got a rule that we’re never going to ever treat a win like a loss. We’re not going to act like we lost when we won.”
Pitt continued a rotation of Terrell Brown, Kene Chukwuka and Peace Ilegomah in the attempt to replace injured forward Ryan Luther.
It isn’t going so well.
Brown had four points and two rebounds, Ilegomah and two points and two rebounds and Chukwuka had none of either while the three of them played a combined 42 minutes. That’s six points and four rebounds from more than an entire game’s worth of a low-post player.
Shamiel Stevenson had seven boards and nine points, but he’s only 6-foot-6. Against tougher competition, he’s going to have a hard time holding up physically in the paint.
“The biggest complaint that I have from tonight is that we just needed better frontcourt play,” Stallings said. “We put too much pressure on our guards because we didn’t get what we needed up front. Those guys, they don’t have to be Ryan Luther, but they have to be more productive than they were tonight.”
As a result of Pitt’s inability to establish anything under the basket, they took 34 3-pointers. That seems to be a trend, as the Panthers took 33 against McNeese State on Saturday. Stallings said he isn’t concerned with the number of 3-point attempts, but when Pitt’s shooters went cold in the second half, they didn’t have another answer for ways to put the ball in the basket. Stallings said he’d like to see more drives, layups and kick-outs from his guards.
DEFENSE TO OFFENSE
The other thing Pitt can do to win some games while not shooting is play better defense. The Panthers fed off their defense against West Virginia in what was their best performance of the year.
Against the Hornets Tuesday, one of Pitt’s best late sequences came when Khameron Davis had a block and a steal on defense and then hit a corner 3-pointer at the other end.
“We focus on defense and it leads us into offense,” Davis said. “It makes sense that after the steal, I made a shot, because that’s they way we play and that’s how we’re taught.”