PITTSBURGH– Down 10 points late in the first half, a visibly frustrated Pitt coach Jeff Capel tried to display a sense of urgency with active hands during a timeout huddle and even rose from his stool to display what he was looking for.
Pitt conceded a reverse layup on the ensuing Saint Francis possession.
It was not the opening night Pitt desired as it dropped an 80-70 contest to Saint Francis Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center.
“Saint Francis were very ready to play and really good,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “They controlled the game from the beginning. It is very disappointing for us. We have the energy required to have a chance to become a good team and I’m not really sure why. It took us a half to really get that energy. We tried to emphasize defense and rebounding and we did not do a good job of that. We panicked in the first half when we couldn’t make a shot. They prey off of that. We have a lot of work to do. The outcome is a surprise and how we started is a surprise.”
Saint Francis (1-0) guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover led all scorers with his career-high 21 points. Four other Red Flash players achieved double-figure point totals as Myles Thompson (13), Maxwell Land (12), Mark Flagg (11) and Ronell Giles Jr (10) all reached the mark.
The game is Saint Francis’s first win in 30 ties against Pitt, in a series which dates back to 1973.
Pitt (0-1) was paced by junior Au’Diese Toney’s 20 points, 15 of which were scored in the first half. Toney shot 8-of-11 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds.
Sophomore Justin Champagnie was Pitt’s other double-digit scorer as he netted 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting and also grabbed seven rebounds. Junior Xavier Johnson flirted with a double-double, settling for nine points and 10 rebounds. Pitt owned a 40-28 advantage in the paint.
First SLAM of the season for @JusChampagnie 💪
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 26, 2020
The Red Flash were able to score 10 of the contest’s opening 12 points, connecting on its first two three-point shots. Defensively, its disciplined zone gave Pitt trouble with ball rotations. When the Panthers were able to get second chance opportunities with its positioning, they were largely unable to capitalize.
“We talked about wanting them to feel us,” said Capel. “We talked about how about when we score we want to pick up and we did not do that. Right away they were able to get into a rhythm offensively. We did not pressure, we did not contest. I thought we would have been excited, we would have been really ready to go. I don’t know if it was nerves or jitters, but they smacked us right in the mouth and we panicked.”
Saint Francis led Pitt 46-33 at the halftime. Pitt’s bench was held to two points in the first half despite both Johnson and Toney being in foul trouble.
Pitt struck first in the second half as John Hugley’s post persistence paid off. Pitt then tried a front-court press on Saint Francis, nearly earning a 10-second call. Instead the Red Flash got the ball across, earned a second chance opportunity and converted when Dixon-Conover converted his three-point attempt.
After Champagnie turned the ball over, Saint Francis struck again on a second-chance opportunity as Pitt could not secure the basketball and Land buried a triple, placing the Red Flash on top by 17 points, an advantage which would prove to be their largest of the night.
Though Pitt would chip away at the lead and Saint Francis had some stagnant spurts on the offensive end, neither of these scenarios would prove to have much of an affect on the scoreboard.
As the second half drew closer to a conclusion, Saint Francis began to hold onto the ball and force the game clock to wind down.
Though it did not make a field goal in the final 4:55 of game action, the advantage proved to be significant enough that the Red Flash could finish the game at the free-throw line.
Pitt will not have much time to make adjustments as its next non-conference game is Saturday afternoon against Drexel.
THEY SAID IT
“I don’t think we shot the ball very well tonight. I know we are a team that can shoot and tonight was a night the ball didn’t fall in. We have to keep our head up and not let one result define us.” – Pitt freshman William Jeffress
“When things aren’t going right we stop talking to each other. We think that’s going to solve it and it’s not. That showed tonight as well.” – Pitt junior Au’Diese Toney
“Some days we look like we’re good and some days we’re not. At times it has been difficult to judge because we are going against us. Today we went against a team that cut, communicated and make their defenses work, man and zone. It took too long, it was similar to last year where when it starts to happen, it snowballs. It took us getting to halftime to get there.” – Capel
Photo credits: Pitt Athletics