CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Pitt entered play on Sunday riding high, coming off the program’s first road victory in nearly three years in a win over North Carolina.
On Sunday, they came crashing back to earth with a frustrating six-point loss that was more upsetting for the way Pitt was defeated than anything else.
The Panthers handed Miami a 16-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game, and after one furious comeback, let the Hurricanes build a 20-point lead in the second half before clawing back once again.
But they’d let things get too far out of reach, and so a beatable Miami squad that had lost two straight and was ranked in the low 80’s by KenPom.com rolled to a six-point win.
“A disappointing loss for us,” head coach Jeff Capel said after the game. “I thought we had an amazing opportunity coming off a big win to go on the road and have an opportunity to get another one.”
So what happened? How did the same team that won at North Carolina get dragged around the floor by Miami?
It all starts with energy.
This is a young Pitt squad. The Panthers’ regular rotation features three upperclassmen, only one of which had played in the ACC before this season.
It’s not a group that has really learned to self-start yet. They’ve frequently struggled out of the gates at the beginnings of games this season.
That tendency has been exacerbated in several scenarios: when they’re coming off a win, when they’re playing an earlier tip-off and when they’re playing in front of a dreary crowd. Sunday night’s game had all three.
“We didn’t have the maturity level necessary as a group — All of us. Every one of us. Coaching staff. Everyone — to move on to the next play,” Capel said. “Until we learn that in our program, then we won’t become the consistently good program that we’re striving to become.”
According to KenPom.com, Pitt has four wins against current Top 100 teams. They beat Florida State on Nov. 6, Rutgers on Dec. 3, North Carolina on Jan. 8 and Kansas State on Nov. 25. Three of the four games that followed were losses. Lingering on victories has become an issue for the Panthers.
“It shouldn’t, but it did [Sunday],” junior forward Terrell Brown said.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to learn these lessons in poor performances and with losses,” Capel added. “But we have to learn the lessons. Hopefully, this is another example of that.”
X OFF THE SPOT
Xavier Johnson had one of his worst outings of the season. He had as many points (four) as turnovers and was a minus-12 while playing 23 minutes, tying a season low.
Johnson’s turnovers came early and Miami capitalized, scoring 14 points from turnovers in the first half. He also could never get the offense moving and flowing the way it needs to for Pitt to score with regularity.
Capel went out of his way to not single out Johnson, but he was clearly not pleased with the performance.
“He didn’t play well,” Capel said. “Period. He didn’t play well.”
When pressed for details, Capel demurred.
“There’s nothing specific. There’s nothing about him that played well. He didn’t play well.”
Johnson is one of Pitt’s best players and will likely bounce back, but in a game where they already had a lot working against them, the Panthers couldn’t compensate for an off night from their point guard.
PITT GOT GASSED
With Johnson anchored to the bench, Capel leaned on Trey McGowens, Ryan Murphy, Justin Champagnie, Au’Diese Toney and Terrell Brown.
That group basically didn’t leave the floor the last 10 minutes of the game. But Capel said he thought they ran out of gas at the end.
“That group that we had in fought so hard and played so hard for extended minutes. I thought we got a little bit tired.”
Capel said having to come from behind to erase two large deficits contributed to the fatigue.
“You dig those holes like that — 16-0 to start and then to start the second half, we’re quickly down 18,” Capel said. “You’re trying to dig out of and you’re having to expend more energy. It’s a deep climb.”
As if everything else that could go wrong hadn’t already, Murphy’s shoe fell apart in warmups and he had to play the rest of the game with a loaner from teammate Anthony Starzynski.
Murphy shot 4 of 12 on the night and was just 1 of 5 from 3-point range. How much of that can be attributed to unfamiliar footwear? Impossible to say.
But it was not a good night shooting all around for the Panthers. They made just 35% of their shots and were 1 for 8 from 3-point range as a team.
McGowens pointed back to the energy, which can manifest itself in off-ball movement and timing for screens and picks, as a fault
“It was mainly [not] sharing energy and not sharing the ball,” McGowens said.
Despite the extremely negative mood from the team after the game, there were some good takeaways.
• Toney returned to the lineup after missing two games with an elbow injury and had nine points in just under 23 minutes.
• Brown came off the bench to sore 10 points in 26:24. He also had four rebounds and a block.
• McGowens continued his recent ball distribution tear. After recording eight assists against North Carolina, he dished out seven against Miami.
But Capel wasn’t in the mood to gloss over his sense of disappointment by talking about the positives.
“This is about us. We didn’t do what was required. It’s never about one guy didn’t do good or did do well or whatever. We didn’t do what’s necessary to win. We had an opportunity and we didn’t.”