ATLANTA — 18 and 17.
As in, 18 turnovers and only 17 made field goals.
Those were the numbers that defined Pitt’s 73-57 defeat at Georgia Tech on Wednesday as they finished the regular season with a 15-16 record overall and a 6-14 record in conference play.
It was a brutal night on the offensive end for the Panthers, going 17-for-55 from the floor and just 3-for-16 to open the game. That opening combined with a 2-for-17 slump in the second half was way too much to overcome, and it has been a theme for this team. Pitt has only scored 70 points once during its current seven-game losing streak, and Jeff Capel’s team has failed to reach 60 in all but two of them.
“They have great length,” Capel said of Georgia Tech’s defense. “At the basket, those two guys (James) Banks and (Moses) Wright do a really good job of protecting the basket. They have good length and athleticism on the wing with (Jordan) Usher, (Jose) Alvarado can get after you, and then (Michael) Devoe is big for a guard. They do a good job of switching up their defense.”
Pitt now sits 164th nationally in KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings, and that is where the biggest improvements will have to come if there is going to be any surprising run in the ACC Tournament.
But as ghastly as the shooting was for Pitt in long stretches of play, it wasn’t the only problem on offense in a game that slipped away in the second half.
UGLY BALL MOVEMENT
The assist-to-turnover ratio was another pretty disheartening number for the Panthers, as they had just seven assists to go with the 18 turnovers. A lot of that was due to a very tough Georgia Tech defense that is 20th nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings, but the Panthers had a lot of trouble making effective passes on the offensive end.
Trey McGowns had the most success of any Pitt player with three assists, but he had some tough sledding himself with two turnovers. In total the Panthers had nine turnovers in the first 16:15, the period of the game where Tech built up an 18-point lead that never got lower than four the rest of the night.
For a team that struggles to knock down shots the way Pitt does, getting as many open looks as possible is imperative to any success. That wasn’t happening at all against Tech, as the Yellow Jackets were in the passing lanes all night. Tech finished the game with 10 steals, led by four from Banks.
Alvarado also had two steals of his own, and he was a problem for Pitt on both ends of the court.
ALVARADO’S HOT START
Tech’s junior guard played nearly 35 minutes, and he torched the Panthers. He finished with 23 points and nine rebounds to go along with five assists and those two steals, filling up the stat sheet and the Panthers’ basket all night. He struggled when the two teams met last month in Pittsburgh with just nine points, but Capel knew how dangerous he could be when he got going the way he did on Wednesday.
“He’s always challenging,” Capel said. “‘He’s good, he’s really confident. He plays with a great spirit. He looks like he loves to play basketball. He looks like he loves to compete, not just play basketball. He loves to figure out how to beat you, how to get under your skin, how to motivate his team.”
Alvarado scored or assisted 15 of Tech’s first 22 points, and that spurt helped give the Yellow Jackets a 22-9 advantage while Pitt couldn’t get anything going on the other end. Pitt had a mountain to climb very early, and he was the biggest reason why.
“Alvarado really gave them a great start,” Capel said. “He plays with such great energy and is so competitive. I think he really understands how to play the position.”
RUNNING OUT OF GAS
Pitt managed to steady the ship going into halftime after falling behind 30-12, ending the opening frame on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit in half. The closest it got was four early in the second half, but fatigue started to show up for the Panthers.
Three Pitt players picked up two fouls in the first half, and that forced Capel to use a very short rotation in the opening 20 minutes. His team only goes eight deep even when everyone is available to play, and the foul trouble forced Justin Champagnie, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Tony to all play over 18 minutes in the first half. The fresher, deeper Yellow Jackets wore the Panthers down, and the transition game off all the turnovers certainly didn’t hurt that effort.
“We were able to see the ball go through the basket, and that gave us a little momentum,” Capel said on the run going into halftime. “We came out in the second half, we forced a quick timeout by them with us pressing right across half court with a trap. We were able to make a couple shots, and we had the momentum a little bit.”
By the time the score was back in striking distance, the legs were gone for the Panthers. This is a team that still hasn’t had its bye week with the ACC schedule, meaning they have been going full throttle in the conference schedule without reprieve since January. The fatigue definitely started to show down the stretch when the Panthers didn’t have enough gas in the tank to make a run at completing the comeback.
“We were able to make a couple of shots, and we had the momentum a little bit,” Capel said. “They are a good team, a veteran team playing well. They were able to withstand it, and they punched us back. We never got close after that.”
But if there’s one positive for Pitt in this regard, it’s that the bye finally comes this weekend before the ACC Tournament. The Panthers will be the only team in the ACC out of action this weekend, so they will have six days to get rested and ready for play in Greensboro.
OFFICIALLY PLAYING ON TUESDAY
And after Wednesday’ loss, it is going to be on Tuesday. After Georgia Tech accepted its postseason ban and therefore removed itself from the ACC Tournament, Pitt still had a chance to finish 10th or higher in the conference and avoid playing on the opening day.
But the combination of Pitt’s loss and Virginia Tech’s win over Clemson means the Panthers are guaranteed to play next Tuesday. The opponent will be determined over the weekend, with Syracuse at Miami, North Carolina at Duke and Wake Forest at North Carolina State being the most relevant games to Pitt’s fate on Saturday.
And forward Eric Hamilton still believes the Panthers can make some noise if they can recapture their form from earlier in the season.
“We’re still the same team,” Hamilton said. “We still have the same players, we still have the same coaches. It’s still the same talented guys. We just have to buckle up and just watch film and correct those mistakes that we have to make in order to do what it takes to win. It’s just small errors. Missing free throws, capitalizing on small things here and there that take ourselves out of the game. Once we defeat ourselves, then it’s hard to get back into it. We just have to stay consistent for 40 minutes.”