PITTSBURGH — The young Pitt men’s basketball team created some hype with two early season wins led by three starting freshman. As the Troy Trojans came into the Peterson Events Center Monday, they represented be the toughest challenger these inexperienced Panthers have played to date.
Pitt showed up to the challenge, led the entire game, and walked away with a 84-75 win.
Freshman Xavier Johnson set the tone with a nice bounce pass to Kene Chukwuka to get the Panthers up, and followed it by taking a charge on the other side. While the scoring came in waves for the Panthers from there, the defense was contagious.
A few possessions later, Trey McGowens made a steal, turned it up court in transition and got to the line for a three point play to go up 7-0. The defensive mentality from the young Panthers was set.
The Panthers had a bit of a size disadvantage, as they will often with their small lineup. However, the defensive mentality did a great job of keeping Troy from consistently winning in the paint. They forced a lot of low percentage threes thanks to the swarming defense.
Troy went into the half down down 40-35, shooting just 29 percent from the field, and 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
The score was close because Pitt had struggled to consistently set up their offense. Pitt was excellent rebounding Troy misses, turning up court, and getting to the hoop. However, when Troy slowed them down, they turned the ball over, and struggled to find good looks within the rhythm of their offense.
Pitt took note, and made it their mentality to get out and run on Troy, and attack the hoop in the second half. Despite the size advantage for Troy, Pitt led in points in the paint, 40-28. It was not because they were backing down Troy. Pitt was out-rebounded, 37-36 and was outscored in second chance points, 16-5. However, they forced Troy out of the paint on defense, and attacked the paint with speed on offense.
That was aided by leading in fast break points 16-6, and 12-2 in points off of turnovers. When combined with Jared Wilson-Frame going 6 for 10 from deep, when the defense sells out on protecting the paint, that’s a combination that is tough to defend. Wilson-Frame finished the game with a team-high 24.
Pitt may not be the most experienced group. They do not have the most size. Even their top end talent may not find the All-ACC team. However, they play in your face defense from tip to finish. They also have an identity on offense to capitalize off their defensive mindset. With three freshman and a brand new head coach, that is a start.
The Panthers will continue to try to establish their identity as they host Central Arkansas Thursday at Petersen Events Center.