In Friday night’s Backyard Brawl matchup between Pitt and West Virginia, not much went right for the Panthers.
After hanging close for the first five minutes of the game, Pitt gave up the lead and never took it back, trailing by as much as 21 and eventually losing by 15.
Pitt turned the ball over 32 times compared to the Mountaineers’ 14. While they did shoot the ball well at 57%, the Panthers struggled to even get the ball to the basket, and many times, to half court.
With all that being said, for a depleted roster that has had to adjust on the fly ever since last year’s numerous departures and this year’s losses, Pitt showed some fight. The Panthers made a few runs mid-way through the game, came out of the gates strong for a bit in the second half, and then made one last push near the end to cut the lead to ten.
“I think there was a lot of good from that game,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “For all of our guys that suited up that night, that was their first time playing in front of a crowd like that. So that will help us as we go forward. We out-rebounded them. Again, when we were strong and valued the ball, we got good looks. We shot 65% in the second half. So, we did some good things, I think those things will build and hopefully we will be better because of them.”
Out of the 32 turnovers, Pitt point guard Femi Odukale had eight of them. Throughout the entire game, the Brooklyn native was hearing it from the loud West Virginia student section, which, combined with some turnovers, led to a few emotional outbreaks during the game. However, similarly to Capel, Odukale also took away some positives from this edition of the Backyard Brawl.
“I learned that we can handle adversity,” Odukale said on Monday. “We often come together and talk to each other when stuff is not going our way, whether it is foul calls, fans. I learned that we can get together and play defense. I was watching the game over again, we played some solid defense. A little mental lapses but we should be fine.”
Since Nike Sibande tore his ACL, Ithiel Horton was suspended indefinitely, and Jamarius Burton got hurt before the season, Odukale, a sophomore, has taken on the responsibilities of the team’s leader. His teammates, along with Capel, have all noticed Odukale’s leadership skills on and off the court, and against West Virginia, fans got the chance to see the fire that he plays with, especially in an intense atmosphere.
“Before the game started, I really wanted to play. I watched some back-in-the-day games, and just seeing the atmosphere and what type of Brawl it was,” Odukale continued. “I felt like I was a part of it. I felt like I was going to keep the same energy. And during the game, I felt the same way until I made a play and let my emotions get through, and that is where it all went downhill for me. But, as a team, I felt like we did good, and just made a few little mistakes.”
“I don’t want to say it was challenging, because I’m from New York and I’ve played in outside environments, and even high school games,” Odukale said about the WVU Coliseum’s rowdy environment. “I just enjoy that a lot. I like when people make me feel like the underdog. I have always felt like the underdog since I have been in college. It made me feel like, this is college basketball. This is where I wanted to be since I was a kid. So, I enjoyed it a lot, I actually liked West Virginia’s crowd and I wish we had the chance to play them again.”
Odukale and the Panthers’ next game comes against UNC Wilmington on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m.