TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Pitt keeps finding new an interesting ways to lose basketball games, with the latest coming by virtue of a flurry of foul trouble in the waning minutes of an 88-75 loss to Florida State on Sunday.
The Panthers trailed by just three points going into the final media timeout, but Terrell Brown, Marcus Carr and Jared Wilson-Frame fouled out while Kene Chukwuka and Kham Davis played with four fouls.
The Panthers have had plenty of issues in the 2017-18 season, but serious foul trouble has rarely been one of them, adding a cruel twist to Pitt’s 15th consecutive loss.
“We were (frustrated) because we thought it would it would have been a little bit different if the foul trouble wasn’t there, but that’s something that we’ve got to adjust to and learn as a young team,” small forward Shamiel Stevenson said. “When you’re not getting your calls and they’re calling a lot of fouls, you’ve got to play disciplined and fix that. That’s something we’ve got to work on as a team. We’ll get there.”
The discrepancy in fouls was significant, with the Seminoles taking 40 free throws compared to 22 for the Panthers. But the Pitt players laid the blame at their own feet rather than at the officials.
“We’ve just gotta go back to practice and really practice defense without fouling,” senior point guard Jonathan Milligan said. “We also had a bunch of turnovers towards the end in the stretch. Ball care hurt us as well and making our free throws.”
Pitt has played 28 basketball games this season, so it’s unlikely that they’ll need a strong focus to prevent what is likely a one-time occurrence from happening again. Instead, they’ll just have to take yet another loss in stride despite an overall solid effort.
“I really liked how my team played,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought we really competed. I thought we had a chance to win the game. The foul trouble became very, very crippling. I can’t fault their effort. I can’t fault their play. I thought they tried to follow the game plan. Of course, we had some breakdowns over 40 minutes, but we really competed.
“It’s another sign of inexperience is really what it is. When you get two fouls or three fouls, it’s learning how to play and not commit a cheap fourth foul, which puts you in a bad spot. It’s another lesson that has to be learned. …
“They were just able to draw fouls. We couldn’t guard them effectively enough without fouling them. But I was again very pleased with how our team played and how they competed and sorry for them that we couldn’t pull it out.”
One of the issues that’s plagued the Panthers all season has been turning over the ball. The Panthers had a minus-four in turnover margin against the Seminoles, committing 12 while getting eight.
After the game, Pitt’s turnover margin fell to -109 on the year, No. 341 in the country. But the 12 total turnovers were a positive for Panthers, especially because four of them came as offensive fouls on a whistle-happy night.
“I thought we did a very good job of taking care of the ball, especially against their pressure and for the most part, we were able to get good shots,” Stallings said.
The fact that several of the turnovers came late in the game while Florida State was putting things away didn’t sit well with Milligan.
“We know we’re young and we’re going to make mistakes but we’re able to find ways to compete with people,” he said. “We’ve almost got to have a perfect game to get a ‘W’. Today, we made some mistakes towards the home stretch that cost us the ‘W.’”
Pitt has been heavily reliant on jump shooting and in particular 3-point shooting since power forward Ryan Luther was lost for the season due to injury in early December. The Panthers came out and made 10 3-pointers in the first half against the Seminoles, but knew they’d need to make an adjustment in the second.
“We can’t just rely on one facet of what we do,” Milligan. “We have to mix it up because we know that if we’re knocking down threes, they’re going to prepare for that at the half. We had to come out and do something a little bit different, so that’s what we did. I think it kept us in the game.”
What the Panthers did in the second half was drive to the hoop and create offense at the rim for one of the first times all season.
“We just had a lot more spacing,” Stevenson said. “We’ve been working on it every day in practice. That kind of helped. We just play together, moved the ball and got it moving a little bit, got into gaps and attacked.”
Stevenson is the kind of player that can make the whole building notice when he goes up for a big dunk. He did just that in the first half, when the stopped a Florida State run with a transition tomahawk. But after a flexed posed and a shout, Stevenson was whistled for a technical foul that gave Florida State two points, the ball and the momentum back.
Stallings shouted, “That’s selfish” from the Pitt bench, but left Stevenson on the court, showing some faith in his freshman forward.
“He was a little frustrated because we didn’t need that at the time,” Stevenson said. “It kinda stopped the momentum. … It was an emotional play for me. I just let it out and I got a tech. It happens sometimes, but I need to be better and react calmer.”
Carr is the one player that’s consistently dealt with foul trouble this season and he played just 23 minutes in the loss because of it. It’s something that he’s said he needs to work on and Stallings agrees.
“We need Marcus out there,” Stallings said. “He’s a stabilizer for us. I thought some of his fouls were just fouls that he shouldn’t commit, especially when you’re in foul trouble. He just has to grow from that and learn from that.”