PITTSBURGH — When Pitt lost senior power forward Ryan Luther to a stress reaction injury in his right foot, the team lost its only experienced post player and most productive overall scorers and rebounder.
The lack of an impact presence in the post meant that without Luther — whose absence is expected to continue at least through Wednesday’s meeting with No. 7 Duke — Pitt’s offense has become more reliant on its outside shooting.
It’s also gotten worse at that very skill, at least up until the Panthers’ loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. Without Luther distributing the ball from the inside out, Pitt’s offense stagnated and relied on the guards getting open looks on their own.
“We don’t have enough scoring at the goal to not be a little bit shot dependent,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said before the Virginia Tech game. “We haven’t sunk their defense enough. Ryan is such a gifted passer, when we’re running offense, he’s able to facilitate all that.”
It wasn’t enough to replace Luther in the post with freshman Terrell Brown. The gap in abilities between the two meant that Pitt was having a hard time getting its 3-point shooters more open looks. In Pitt’s first two games against ACC opponents, the Panthers shot 25 percent from down town after spending most of the season in the mid-to-upper 30s.
“We’re actually having to revamp a little of what we do in his absence,” Stallings said. “The guy that would backup Ryan doesn’t play exactly like Ryan, he’s a different kind of player, and so we’ve had to make some modifications to accommodate that.”
Saturday against Virginia Tech, Pitt did just that, as the Panthers shot a season-high 46.2 percent from beyond the arc.
“I would say that maybe (the changes made) had something to do with it,” Stallings said Monday during the ACC conference call. “We did a better job with our spacing. We did a better job with our execution. … Also, we’ve had good shoots in the other games that we jumped up and missed. “I think more than anything, it was more spacing, more attention to detail and that some guys just had better days.”
The hot afternoon shooting as a team was spurred by the individual effort of junior guard Jared Wilson-Frame. As the team’s outside shooters hit a cold patch while dealing the absence of Luther, Wilson-Frame was seemingly the most affected. In a three-game stretch against Towson, Miami and Louisville, he went a combined 10 for 42 (23.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We’ve had good shooters miss quite a few good shots recently and that’s a part of it,” Stallings said. “Jared is a good shooter. He’s been a good shooter his whole career and his whole life. Jared is able to get himself open at times. He has been in a little bit of a shooting slump.”
That slump seemed to end against the Hokies, when he went 4 of 11 from 3-point range as part of his career-high-equaling 20 points. In addition to the change in scheme, Stallings was complimentary of the way Wilson-Frame and others didn’t let the cold shooting streak get them off their games.
“We believe that Jared, Parker (Stewart), Marcus (Carr) and Kham (Davis) are good shooters when they’re open,” Stallings said. “Nobody is going to shoot for a high percentage when they’re covered. … Jared doesn’t want to miss, obviously. The thing I like about him is that he’s still willing and wants to go put up the next one.”
It looks like Pitt will continue to play without Luther for at least some time, so if the Panthers hope to collect an ACC win, continued success in outside shooting is a must.