PITTSBURGH — The top-line takeaway from Pitt’s 63-58 win over Towson on Friday should probably be that the Panthers did, in fact, win.
The Tigers were favored by four in what was likely the first time in the history of the Petersen Events Center that the Panthers were a home underdog to a mid-major.
Not only that, Pitt played pretty much an awful first half. They didn’t shoot, they turned the ball over, they got outworked. Yet, the Panthers closed the gap quickly before the half and hit just enough shots after the break to down the Tigers on Khameron Davis, Marcus Carr and Jonathan Milligan’s late heroics.
It’s by far the best with of the season for the Panthers, with Towson coming into the game with the No. 35 RPI and a Top 100 Rating in KenPom.com.
So while counting “quality wins” for a Panthers team that is likely going to finish well below .500 is something of a pointless exercise, knocking off Towson after early losses to Navy and Montana shows the progress the young team has made over the first two months of the season.
BROWN STEPS UP
The loss of Ryan Luther has left a gaping hole in Pitt’s game, with back-to-back opponents essentially eschewing playing any type of post defense.
Terrell Brown finally made someone pay for that tactic, as he set a career high with 12 points while grabbing seven rebounds and not turning the ball over even once.
When looking ahead to a Luther-less future in 2018-19, post play was the glaring weakness. If Brown can come close to replicating his performance Friday on a regular basis, it could have huge implications for the future.
Pitt has had a tough time handling presses all season, and Towson’s combination of a 1-2-2 delay and a full-court trap gave the Panthers fits. Pitt turned the ball over 21 times and was rarely over the time line in less than eight seconds, giving the half-court offense less time to work the ball around.
The one time Pitt has played well against the press this year was against West Virginia, when the Panthers used Luther to bring the ball up the court. Brown and Peace Ilegomah mostly played at center with four guards on the floor. The freshmen big men aren’t skilled ball handlers, so they weren’t used as much to help get the ball up the floor.
Pitt went 1 for 16 from 3-point range in the first half, but they didn’t stop shooting. The team’s 3-point offense, especially without Luther, is going to be a vital key, and they don’t have many other options when it comes to creating points.
“The shots we had were pretty open,” Stewart said. “We just weren’t hitting shots in the first half. … We know we have some guys that can shoot the ball. We kept shooting them.”
Pitt didn’t lack for any confidence shooting after the awful first half. Wilson-Frame came out and immediately shot a long 3-pointer in the second half, which got a rise out of the crowd. Davis and Carr both made contested shots late which were key to the victory.
Pitt is a young team with three freshmen guards in the regular rotation along with Milligan and Wilson-Frame. It would be easy to imagine that kind of group losing confidence, but Pitt’s shooters have just kept shooting and that’s a positive sign.
ROAD GETS TOUGHER
Pitt will take ACC play head on when they return from break, with a visit from Miami, trips to Louisville and Virginia Tech and then No. 4 Duke.
To take on that challenge without Luther would be nearly an impossible task, but Pitt might not have to. Kevin Stallings said that he’s hopeful Luther will be able to return for the Miami game Dec. 30.