SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In each of the first three games of Pitt’s 2018-19 season, senior wing Jared Wilson-Frame scored 20 or more points.
It looked like the sharpshooting guard was poised to have a breakout year as a senior and lead Pitt’s efforts from beyond the arc.
After his early season hot streak, Wilson-Frame cooled down, but was still a consistent long range threat. Part of that was due to freshman Pitt guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens finding their games in driving to the basket.
But since the calendar turned to January, things haven’t gone nearly as well for the senior. He went 1 of 8 from 3-point range against North Carolina on Jan. 5 as the Tar Heels sat back in a zone and dared the Panthers to shoot over it. He was 2 of 6 against Louisville, but then went 1 for 6 from 3-point range and 1 for 10 from the floor at NC State, the worst shooting game of his career.
Against Florida State, Wilson-Frame passed up open shots and seemed to be totally off his game. He played just 10 minutes and finished without a point.
It was rock bottom for the player that had been Pitt’s rock as senior while its freshman playmakers were getting their feet wet.
Hitting that point prompted some introspection on Wilson-Frame’s part and some advice from Pitt head coach Jeff Capel.
“I’ve just been putting too much pressure on myself and thinking too much about the game and being a senior and being my last year, putting too much pressure to just do too much,” Wilson-Frame said. “I had a talk with Coach the other day that really helped. Just getting back to having fun playing the game. I was in a different mental space over these last couple of games, and that’s why I was struggling. It didn’t even have anything to do with my actual basketball abilities. I just had to get over that and back to having fun playing the game.”
Interestingly enough, the game he entered trying not to put more pressure on himself was the one in which there was the most pressure on him. Syracuse plays the same kind of 2-3 zone that North Carolina used to give Pitt fits and Wilson-Frame’s shooting is the best antidote Pitt has for that type of offense.
He, and everyone else, knew that if Pitt was going to have a chance to win that game, he was going to have to shoot the ball well.
“I talked to Coach before the game,” he said. “I knew going in, being my team’s best shooter, I knew this was going to be a game I was going to have to step up and make shots.”
Pitt did not win, but not because Wilson-Frame didn’t hold up his end of the deal. He was 7 of 15 from the floor, 5 of 13 from 3-point range and scored a team-high 19 points. He also had no turnovers in a game where Pitt had far too many and also grabbed eight rebounds.
“It was good to see him make some shots [Saturday],” Capel said. “He rebounded. He played well.”
With Pitt struggling against a zone twice now, it would be no surprise to see more teams go to it against them. Wilson-Frame will continue to be a critical part of Pitt’s response to passive defenses. Right now, he feels like he’s found the solution to getting back to his best basketball so that he can help his team in that role.
“Just lose myself in the game of basketball,” he said. “I’ve been playing my whole life. Just go out there and have fun like I’m playing back home, playing pickup with my friends. It’s the same game, basketball, it’s just being played at a higher level. Just getting back to having fun. I think that’s the key.”