PITTSBURGH — On Saturday at Petersen Events Center, Pitt had the ball, down by three points with under a minute to play, on its home court, in front of 9,000 people mostly wearing black.
It’s the kind of environment that provides a pretty significant advantage in college basketball. But the Panthers weren’t able to take advantage in what became a 79-76 defeat at the hands of NC State, Pitt’s second straight close loss.
First, Xavier Johnson missed a 3-pointer, then Terrell Brown missed a 3-pointer, then Sidy N’Dir missed a 3-pointer before Johnson was fouled. When Pitt got the ball back with five seconds left, N’Dir made one more heave, and it too was off the mark.
In total, Pitt made just one of its final 11 field goals to close out the three-point loss. But senior wing Jared Wilson-Frame insisted that there was no lack of confidence that the Panthers had the ability to gut out a win, despite the team’s losing streak reaching seven games with its second straight tight loss.
“I feel just as confident as I did the first day we all got together when school started,” he said. “I am still just as confident in this group — every huddle, every timeout we were in. We thought we were going to win that game just now. Even with Sidy taking that shot, I’m thinking it’s going in. My first reaction is it’s going in. I’m going to try to get the rebound, but we have confidence in each other and we have confidence in our team. We just gotta do whatever it takes to win the game at the end of the day.”
Head coach Jeff Capel said that if anything, it might have been a bit of over-confidence, as he thought Pitt’s shot selection on that three-shot possession was a bit overzealous.
“A couple times, we didn’t get the ball where we wanted to get it to,” Capel said. “I can think of one off the top of my head where the shot selection wasn’t what we wanted. A couple times they played good defense and they contested shots and we just missed it. Some of it could be a little fatigue, too. As I go back and evaluate the tape I will have a better feel, but I know one possession we didn’t get the shot that we wanted, but other than that we got some pretty good looks.”
The other thing he thought his young offensive players were doing was focusing too much on drawing fouls, and not enough on finishing at the rim.
“I thought a couple times as we drove, our focus wasn’t 100 percent completely on finishing,” he said. “It was on trying to draw contact or thinking there was going to be contact and bracing for it. A few times there wasn’t any contact. So we have to focus on just the shot and not on anything else. I thought that played a part into it.”
Wilson-Frame said the team’s recent run of close losses has been frustrating, but more so for the fact that Pitt has let them be close games when they had the opportunity to pull away earlier and were not able to.
“It’s frustrating because you are always right there,” he said. “There are things in close games where there might be those last couple of possessions, and things you could say I wish we would have done this better and we might of won. The things we are getting angry about is that we are even putting ourselves in that situation in the first place because we feel like there are plays before and throughout the game and stretches throughout the game, if we were a little tighter and more together that we wouldn’t have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”
Capel said that despite his team’s current slide, he’s still seeing progress from the young Panthers. But he doesn’t want to take any moral victories away from what was another winnable game for the Panthers resulting in a tick in the loss column.
“I think we are, but at the same time, we want to win,” Capel said. “We had two opportunities to win, and we came up short. I don’t want us to be satisfied with just that.”