CLEMSON, S.C. – The Pittsburgh Panthers extended their worst losing streak in program history on Thursday night, falling to the Clemson Tigers in Littlejohn Coliseum by 24 points.
Pitt’s 12th straight loss can be chalked up to a lot of things, but a lack of effort isn’t one of them.
From a defensive scheme, Kevin Stallings tried everything. Mixing lineups, going with a 2-3 zone at times, then switching to a man-to-man defense when that didn’t work. On the offensive end, Pitt drove inside enough to get fouled for 15 shots at the free throw line, but only hit seven of them. Many players tried to take their best shot, but most of them sailed short. Terrell Brown tried to carry the offense, but the Tigers’ defense began to key onto him after he scored 13 points in the first half.
The Panthers played hard, but it didn’t matter. This year, Tigers are bigger, faster, stronger and better than the Panthers.
It was 90’s night at Littlejohn Coliseum. Clemson wore throwback uniforms and tunes by the Notorious B.I.G. played over the loud speakers. And Clemson looked a lot like it’s 1997 team against Pitt – the last Tigers team to reach the Sweet 16.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said he could sense a lack of focus in his players before the start of the game, during shootaround.
“I didn’t think our performance was good on either end, to be honest with you,” Stallings said. “We didn’t share the ball like we needed to, we didn’t take care of the ball like we needed to, and we didn’t finish at the goal like we needed to at times.
“When we get into trouble, when the game gets tough for us, we have a tendency to go solo and our team is not made up of guys that are capable of winning games going solo. And that’s a lesson that’s coming more slowly than it needs to… This is the ACC and you can’t go solo in this league.”
Stallings senses were correct, but focus wasn’t the only thing the Panthers lacked.
Brown breaks out, but can’t do it alone
Entering this game, Terrell Brown was averaging under four points per-game, but coming off a showing against North Carolina where he scored a season-high 14 points. The freshman forward from Rhode Island upped that mark against Clemson, pouring in 19 points, eight rebounds a steal and two blocks.
The 6-foot-10 forward was solid inside, connecting on five-of-seven attempts in the painted area, but also expanded his range a bit. He nailed two mid-range jumpers, and swished the first three-pointer of his college career from the top of the key to give Pitt its only lead of the game early in the first half.
“I thought Terrell did a nice job offensively and got us some baskets, and that would be a welcomed thing,” Stallings said.
Coming into this game, Brown had only attempted seven shots from behind the arc all season. He led Pitt in rebounding and scoring in the game, and gave the Panthers one of their few second half highlights, throwing down a two-handed slam to break up a Clemson run.
“Kevin’s team played hard. I thought the team was big, strong kids that played hard,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “The Brown kid inside was really good today.”
But as good as Brown was in South Carolina, he can’t will Pitt to victories on his own. Against Clemson, he received little to no help. No other Panther scored more than eight points or grabbed more than six rebounds on the night. Four of Brown’s nine made field goals came unassisted too.
In total, Pitt had just seven assists on the night, tying a season-low from a Jan. 20 loss at Duke.
Quiet night for Carr
Marcus Carr has been a bright spot for Pitt all season, often times looked at as the go-to scorer for this young squad. Entering Thursday night, Carr had scored at least 12 points in four of his last five games.
But on Thursday night, he was off. The 6-foot-1 freshman from Toronto played 27 minutes, went just one-of-seven from the floor for three points and turned the ball over twice. He did lead Pitt in assists with four.
Pitt had no answer for DeVoe
Clemson senior Gabe DeVoe had struggled against Pitt before Thursday night’s game. He didn’t play against the Panthers as a freshman, scored five points against them as a sophomore and nine points against them as a junior. But on Thursday night, he exploded for 25 points. There was nothing Pitt could do to stop him.
Over a stretch of 111 seconds early in the second half, DeVoe swished three shots from behind the arc to push Clemson’s lead to 20 points. In total, he connected on seven-of-11 shots from behind the arc. At one point in the second half, he channeled Jimmer Fredette-like range, swishing a shot while standing on Clemson’s paw logo near center court.
“I was just executing the sets,” DeVoe said. “The first ones were off designed plays, then that third one was a heat check.”
As a team, Clemson shot 44 percent from three-point range, 45 percent from the floor, and turned the ball over just eight times.
“When they get going like that, especially from the perimeter, they’re very, very dangerous,” Stallings said. “We certainly didn’t do a good enough of job of guarding (DeVoe).”
According to KenPom, Pitt ranks 131st in the country in defensive efficiency, allowing 103.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s a mark that is second to last among ACC teams, with Pitt only ahead of Wake Forest.
Former Robert Morris guard passes around Pitt, and with the flu
Basketball fans in Pittsburgh watching this game from home may have noticed a familiar face for Clemson wearing the No. 2 jersey. That was Marcquise Reed, a former Robert Morris player.
Reed led Robert Morris in scoring in the 2014-15 season with 15.1 points per game. He was named NEC Rookie of the Year and helped the Colonials reach the NCAA tournament. He then transferred to Clemson, becoming eligible after sitting out a season.
A 6-foot-3 senior guard from Landover, Maryland, Reed started Thursday’s game even though he had the flu and a temperature of 103 degrees earlier in the week, according to Clemson coach Brad Brownell.
Still, Reed finished with four points, two rebounds, a steal and just as many assists as Pitt had as a team, with seven.
Youth is not Pitt’s only problem
There has been a narrative with Pitt this season that youth is their problem. The Panthers have seven freshmen and nine players who are playing Division I college basketball for the first time.
Stalling talked about his young team again in the postgame presser, saying, “Some of it is still youth. Lack of experience. Lack of a go-to guy that can create an easy basket for himself or someone else.”
But youth is not something that automatically equals losses.
For example, here’s a list of all the Division I teams this year that carry seven or more freshmen on the roster and have an overall winning record: Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas A&M, Xavier, Boston College, Colorado, San Diego, Louisville, Florida State, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s, Army, Robert Morris, Weber State, Austin Peay, Belmont, Idaho, Texas Tech and Eastern Michigan.
There’s four ACC teams on that list and 10 Mid-Majors. A youthful basketball team is not destined to lose.
The difference between Pitt and all of those other teams is talent – on the floor, on the bench and on the coaching staff.