PITTSBURGH — It was senior day at Petersen Events Center, and Pitt’s three playing seniors were recognized for their contributions.
Or something like that.
Pitt seniors Monty Boykins, Jonathan Milligan and Zack Smith walked out with their parents before their game and were greeted by head coach Kevin Stallings and athletic director Heather Lyke along with framed jerseys bearing their names and numbers. If you’ve been to a senior day, you know the drill.
But what was missing was the fond memories of the contributions of the players that are departing. Milligan has played well as a backup point guard. Boykins is a reserve that’s averaged 5.8 minutes per game after transferring from Lafayette. Smith is a walk-on that has no points in his career.
By all accounts, all three are good students, teammates and young men. But they haven’t helped Pitt much this year.
That’s not a slight to them. It was a pretty well-known fact that those three players weren’t going to be relied upon for great contributions this season.
All three seniors started for the first time on Saturday against the No. 1-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, and it was easy to see where Pitt’s struggles have lied. By putting their three most experienced players on the floor, the Panthers let Virginia start out on an 8-0 run and Stallings had to call a time out to get different players on the floor before it got worse.
That’s the biggest reason that Pitt is 0-17 and is poised to go winless in conference play on the year. The Panthers have very few veterans, and the ones they have are categorically inferior than the team’s still-flawed freshmen.
MORE DEPARTURES ON THE HORIZON?
Pitt has a fourth senior, Hampton native Ryan Luther, who is taking a medical redshirt after suffered a stress reaction in his right foot during non-conference play.
Luther is expected to be granted a fifth season of eligibility and play next season, and as such, he did not walk out with the other seniors on senior day.
But of course, Luther is also expected to graduate and could choose to transfer to another institution. Luther said before the season he wanted to see things through at Pitt, but would anyone blame him if he wanted to go?
OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Of course, of the nine scholarship players that suited up for the Panthers on Saturday, it’s likely there will be some attrition in the ranks.
Pitt is still recruiting players for the 2018 class, like former Southmoreland center Brandon Stone, who recently put Pitt in his top four and 7-foot-1 Argentine center Francisco Caffaro, who visited during the Wake Forest game.
That means that some of Pitt’s other scholarship players probably won’t return. The two obvious candidates are Samson George and Peace Ilegomah, who are averaging fewer than six minutes per game and have a total of 10 points between them.
BURYING THE LEDE
Of course, we haven’t yet addressed the elephant in the room. Lyke was in attendance Saturday after skipping Pitt’s mid-week contest against Wake Forest. She was treated to the worst half of Pitt basketball in over 50 years.
The Panthers’ offense in the first half was so bad, it stretched, bent and abused the Pitt’s record books. Pitt’s 4.5 percent shooting mark from the floor is a new school record low, breaking a 12.5 mark set against Rutgers in 2012. The seven first-half points were the fewest since 1952.
Virginia is good. At some level, they do that to everyone. But they don’t do THAT to everyone.
“That wasn’t any fun,” Stallings said to lead off his press conference in the understatement of the year. “I didn’t see the first half coming. I didn’t even think that could be the most case. I thought we would at least be better than that in the worst case.”
Lyke’s decision on whether to bring back Stallings has probably already been made. But if it wasn’t, the performance against Virginia can’t be considered anything other than a body blow. It’s easy to envision it being Stallings’ last game at the Pete, as well.
If one assumes that Stallings is headed out the door, the number of departures becomes limitless. There are a few players that have played well enough to transfer and find a high-level landing spot if they wanted to. Marcus Carr, Shamiel Stevenson and Parker Stewart certainly, and maybe a few more. The ones at the other end of the spectrum probably wouldn’t be retained by a new coach.
It’s safe to say that three seniors walked on to the court on Saturday, knowing that it would be their last game in a Pitt uniform at the Pete, but it was probably the last game for a lot more than that.