PITTSBURGH — The Pitt men’s basketball losing streak reached four games on Saturday, as Pitt’s furious comeback in the final minutes against Virginia took just too much time as Ryan Murphy’s game-tying shot attempt did not beat the final buzzer and the Cavaliers escaped Petersen Events Center with a 59-56 victory.
Murphy’s shot would probably have been good if he would have gotten it off in time, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Panthers couldn’t get a 3-point shot to fall when they needed one.
Trey McGowens had an attempt to take the lead with under 10 seconds to go from the corner that found iron instead of net. On the afternoon, the Panthers shot 20 percent from 3-point range.
That figure is actually an improvement from their previous game, when Pitt shot 18.2% from beyond the arc against Florida State. Only one this season — against West Virginia and Kansas State — has Pitt shot worse from beyond the arc in back-to-back games.
While Pitt has not been a prolific 3-point shooting team all season, point guard Xavier Johnson thinks their lower percentage has been due to a lack of confidence to take quality shots. With Pitt’s perimeter players passing up open looks. what’s left are last-minute must-takes and end-of-the-shot clock heaves instead of in-rhythm attempts achieved through passing and movement. That’s resulted in the Panthers shooting below their ability level.
“Some are good looks and we’ve just got to step up and have enough confidence to shoot it,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve got some good shooters on the team, we’re just not showing it on the court.”
WORKING THROUGH IT
When Braxton Key missed a free throw with 4.3 seconds left, Jeff Capel called a timeout. He wanted to get Murphy into the game.
“The play was for me to go down hill and hand the ball off to Murph,” Johnson said.
As it turned out, Johnson’s pass and Murphy’s release were just a hair too slow, but that shot was on target, which probably made it even more disheartening for Murphy.
The junior missed two games with a concussion earlier this month and has had a tough go of things since his return. He’s shooting 7.7% from the floor since his return and hasn’t made a single 3-pointer in seven attempts.
“I think he missed a lot of time,” Capel said. “With missing a lot of time, with the way our schedule has been, we haven’t had a lot of practice time. So I think it’s rust.”
It’s easy to see how Murphy’s lull has impacted the team’s 3-point shooting as a whole.
The furious comeback coming short was dramatic, but Pitt lost the game when it went six minutes without scoring a basket earlier in the second half. It’s something that has cropped up time and time again for the Panthers this season.
“We seem to have that every game,” Capel said. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for all of us, but I don’t have an answer for it.”
Not only that, Capel thinks that the lack of offense bleeds into other areas of the Panthers’ game.
“When you go through lulls, six minutes [Saturday], five minutes the other day, whatever, and you don’t score, when you’re not experienced and you’re not mature, that effects everything,” Capel said. “That effects body language, it effects defense, it effects rebounding, because you put so much on yourself to score. We’re struggling.”
Pitt’s comeback happened because the Panthers were able to get Virginia to turn the ball over and get out in transition.
“When coach told us to go to the 1-2-1-1 press, that helped us turn it around,” Johnson said. “We’re a good defensive team. That’s what we excel at.”
Pitt is a good defensive team, especially at forcing opponent turnovers. They’re No. 17 in the country in opponent turnover percentage and 19th in steal percentage.
“We felt that if we could pressure the basketball and force turnovers, that would allow us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets to play against their defense that wasn’t set,” Capel said. “I thought when we did that towards the end, when we were able to force some turnovers, get some defensive rebounds, we were able to get in transition and soften their defense up.”
SAME OLD SONG
But Pitt only pressed in the game’s final moments. The reason? As always, it goes back to Pitt’s lack of depth.
“How we finished the game, that’s how we have to start from the jump — punching the other team in the mouth and stay with our foot on the gas,” Au’Diese Toney said. “Sometimes, we take our foot off the gas.”
Toney may be right, but if Pitt’s players didn’t go full bore the entire game, they have a pretty good reason for it. Toney and Justin Champagnie played all 40 minutes. Trey McGowens played 37, Terrell Brown played 31 and Xavier Johnson played 27 while dealing with foul trouble.
That’s a lot of minutes for the starting five. Pitt has the skill level on defense to be a potentially smothering unit, but they need more depth in order to exert that pressure for 40 minutes.