DURHAM, N.C. — It was hard to find positives in Pitt’s 81-54 throttling at the hands of the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils on Saturday.
Pitt turned the ball over, was dominated in the paint and was generally out played by the Blue Devils for the second time in 10 days, following Pitt’s 87-52 loss at Petersen Events Center on Jan 10.
In 10 days, Pitt got eight points better against the Blue Devils. That’s progress by the strictest definition of the word, but at that rate, Pitt would have to play Duke four more times to sniff a close game.
Clearly, Pitt isn’t going to come close to playing with the likes of Duke this season. But how far off are they from playing a game against one of the top teams in the nation? Head coach Kevin Stallings wouldn’t even hazard a guess.
“I don’t have any way of knowing the answer to that,” Stallings said. “Obviously, my preference would be sooner rather than later.”
But Stallings thought that his team did show growth from the last time they were beaten by the Blue Devils.
“Despite the score of the game, I thought we played, honestly, much better against them than we did the first game,” Stallings said. “I know that’s a little sad with getting beaten by 27.”
The Panthers clearly had no answer inside for the dynamic duo of Marin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. Carter scored 21, Bagley had 20 and it didn’t seem to matter who Pitt used to guard them, the big men were getting open, right from the start.
Stallings wasn’t pleased with the way his defense executed the game plan, especially against Carter.
The trouble inside led to more help, which led to open looks from the outside, where Grayson Allen (4 of 10 from 3-point range, 16 points) and Gary Trent, Jr. (5 of 7 from 3-point range, 17 points) were able to capitalize.
“When they make 12 threes and (shoot) 50 percent from three, they’re going to be a tough challenge for anybody,” Stallings said. “That happens because they can collapse your defense, because their post play is so good. You send a second defender in and then they have you spread out and those guys are good passers.”
CARR BACK ON TRACK
Marcus Carr has had an up-and-down start to his ACC career. In his first game, he was held scoreless against Miami. Then, he stepped back up to score 11 and 14 against Louisville and Virginia Tech before being held to 15 points combined against Duke, Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Carr scored 12 in his second crack at the Blue Devils, but it might be his other stats that are more telling about his performance.
Carr turned the ball over just once and had just one personal foul while plying 31 minutes. During his three-game scoring drought, he averaged 2.3 fouls per game, three turnovers per game and played 28.3 minutes per game. Those stats go hand-in-hand, as some of the easiest ways to find a seat on the bench are to turn the ball over and get into foul trouble.
“If I’m in foul trouble, I can’t be out there helping my team and doing the things that I’m used to doing,” Carr said. “It’s definitely huge for me.”
“He played much better today,” Stallings added. “He didn’t try to do too much and sort of let the game come to him. As a result, he played well.”
Stallings thought that Carr could have had even more offensive production, but he was an uncharacteristic 0 for 3 from 3-point range despite making almost 40 percent of his threes on the season.
In Pitt’s non-conference play, Carr looked like the team’s best player going forward, but after his wayward start to league action, that’s come in doubt as of late. If Carr can right the ship and have more good games than bad the rest of the way, it would go a long way toward giving the Panthers some hope for the future.
In the first half, Pitt forward Kene Chukwuka threw a pass that was intercepted by Allen out at the 3-point line. Allen took off up the court with Chukwuka in pursuit. Pitt’s Swedish big man didn’t quite catch up to Allen and ended up taking his leg out as him as he went up for a dunk.
Allen got up yelling at Chukwuka, saying “that’s bullshit.” Of course, Allen himself might be best known for tripping opponents himself, adding a dash of irony to the proceedings.
Regardless, Chukwuka continues to be the kind of player that gets under the skin of other team’s stars and that’s exactly what the Panthers are looking for out of a reserve forward.
Turnovers have been a recurring issue for the Panthers this season, as have scoring droughts. Those two combined toward the end of the first half, as Pitt turned the ball over 10 times in eight minutes and Duke went on a 17-0 run.
Most of Duke’s final margin of victory could be accounted for by the Blue Devils’ 24 points off turnovers.
“In the first half, we had 11 turnovers, the scored 21 (points off turnovers) and they were ahead by 21,” Stewart said. “Those turnovers can go a long way.”
Pitt isn’t a particularly deep team, especially when it comes to reliable scoring depth. The Panthers only have two healthy players that are averaging more than 10 points per game this season.
Against a team like Duke, that difference was highlighted, as the Blue Devils had four players score more than 16 points and have five players that average double figures.
The depth of the Duke attack stretched the Pitt defense thin. With so many players at a one-on-one disadvantage, there wasn’t enough help to go around.
“That’s exactly it, right there,” Stewart said. “You can’t just key on one guy, because you get so focused on taking him away, everyone else is just as good or almost as good, so it’s tough.”