GREENSBORO, N.C. – Pitt’s women’s basketball team went into the ACC tournament confident, feeling like it could take on hell with a watergun.
But in March, confidence only goes so far on the basketball court. Against Boston College on Tuesday, the Panthers often lacked two necessary qualities: cohesion and talent.
And so, Pitt’s pandemic-riddled 2020-21 season came to close on the floor of the historic Greensboro Coliseum, as it fell 67-56 to the Boston College Eagles.
The young Panthers completed their third season under head coach Lance White with a 5-14 overall record, with three of those wins coming in regular season ACC play.
“We had way too many turnovers,” White said. “And you can’t win if you don’t get shots up and if you foul. … We’re still becoming a disciplined basketball team. We just want hero plays, and so then – if we can’t guard them, then we just foul them. We have to understand value of possessions.”
Boston College (7-11; 3-11 ACC) has typically been led this season by Taylor Soule, an All-ACC selection – second team by the Blue Ribbon Panel and first team by the head coaches. But the 5-foot-11 forward from New Hampshire had a relatively quiet game, finishing with four points and five rebounds.
The Eagle that really gave Pitt fits was Cameron Swartz, a sharpshooting junior guard from Marietta, Georgia. In Pitt’s last meeting with BC, Swartz had just 10 total points. By halftime Wednesday, she had tallied 23, with 11 of those coming in the second period. Swartz was unguardable at times. In one moment in the second quarter, she drained a three-ball while being tightly guard by Amber Brown, arguably Pitt’s top defender.
In all, Swartz ended the contest with 33 points, six rebounds and two assists. Her points were a career-high and tied a BC-record for the most by one player in a tournament game.
“Thank goodness Cameron Swartz came up big time after time in our offense,” Eagles’ head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “She just played with that fire in her eyes.”
After falling behind by as many as 17 points, the game seemed to turn in Pitt’s favor near the end of the second quarter. Pitt went into halftime riding a 13-0 run, cutting the deficit down to just a pair of points. Pitt was powered on that run by Jayla Everett, who caught fire like a gas station in a Michael Bay movie and poured in nine points during the 2:40 stretch. She capped the quarter off by swishing a mid-range jumper while being fouled by Swartz.
“We were down, so I was trying to just execute and run everything that he was telling me to do and then just shoot the ball,” Everett said. “I feel like we dug ourselves too deep in a hole all season. … This time we couldn’t come back.”
Everett stuffed the box score for the Panthers, finishing with 22 points, three rebounds and three assists. A transfer from New Mexico, Everett was a standout player for Pitt this season, leading them in scoring and earning an honorable mention nod on the All-ACC team.
“I actually really did enjoy my year playing, honestly. The atmosphere was completely different. I felt like I was around a group of people that wanted to see me succeed and wanted to succeed just as much as I wanted to succeed,” Everett said. “I feel like this year showed me what I’m really capable of.”
Boston College pressed back on the gas pedal in the third quarter, beginning it with an 8-2 run to push their lead ahead. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles had grown their lead to 17 points.
A crucial problem for the Panthers was their carelessness with the ball as they coughed up possession 22 times. The Eagles scored 23 points off those turnovers.
While stellar sophomore guard Dayshanette Harris remained sidelined for Pitt with a right knee injury, senior guard Gabbie Green did return from her ankle injury, playing eight minutes off the bench.
Green is the lone active senior on Pitt’s roster and was a valuable contributor for the Panthers this season. However, the NCAA isn’t counting this season toward the eligibility clock for its winter athletes, so, Green could return next season. White indicated after the game that it’s likely that Green will use her extra year of eligibility, but may decide to play somewhere closer to her home in Bellville, Texas.
“Gabbie is going to take a look,” White said. “It’s been extremely difficult for her to be away from her family this far. We’ve talked, and we’re going to look at some different options. … We’ll find a great spot for her really because she added so much to our team. I recruited Gabbie to teach us how hard you have to play and the speed, the tempo that she brings. She’s a great energy kid.”
The bright side in the game for Pitt was that it got some good contributions from some of its youngsters. Freshman Taisha Exanor had nine points and two rebounds off the bench, and sophomore guard Emy Hayford tallied four points, two assists and four steals. Sophomore forward Amber Brown was steady again too, chipping in 15 points, nine boards and three assists.
“I thought Emy played extremely hard,” White said. “And then Taisha and those freshmen kids, really, I love Tai’s length and I’m really excited about having an off-season with her where I think she’s got a chance to be a really, really good player for us and stretch the defense.”
Pitt is now 19-31 all-time vs. Boston College in a series that dates back to 1982, when both schools were in the old Big East. Since joining the ACC in 2013, Pitt is 2-8 all-time now in the conference tournament.
The Eagles advance to face fifth-seeded Syracuse on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The Orange have been led this season by Lieberman Award finalist Tiana Mangakahia, who is second in the nation in assists, and freshman sensation Kamilla Cardoso, who claimed shares of the ACC’s Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Pitt will head home to regroup and rest up for next season. While the Panthers’ record might not show it, White feels good about the progress the program made this season in becoming a competitive team in the ACC. Pitt was fourth in the conference in rebounding this year with 41.4 per-game, and the Panthers were third in blocks with 4.56 per-game.
“I think it was overall a year of growth. I think we’re a much better basketball team than we were a year ago. But at the same time we still have a long way to go,” White said. “I think we got some respect in how we played. But then now we have to learn how to win. It’s the hardest part of going from a team that’s never won in this conference to a team that can compete in this conference. This is the next hardest step.”