On Tuesday night, Jeff Capel’s Pitt team brought home its first victory of the season, taking down UNC Wilmington by a score of 59-51.
In as ugly a finish as you can imagine, the two teams combined to make two of their last 25 shot attempts.
“Our team is interesting,” Capel said after the win. “Right now, we are going to have to win ugly, and that’s what we did today. Hopefully we are going to start getting back whole.”
Overall, Pitt shot the ball relatively well, given the lack of shooters on the roster and the awful finish to the game. The Panthers finished with a field goal percentage of 43%, as well as a three-point percentage of 25% (just 1 of 4). By piling together defensive stops, drawing fouls inside, and sticking together, Pitt was able to squeak out its first win of the season.13
“It just feels good for this group, for what we have been through,” Capel continued. “The first week, week-and-a-half, two weeks of the season, to be able to get a win. We were able to do it with some game pressure after we built up a big lead. We still have to work on valuing the basketball. When things get a little bit chaotic, we have to be able to have poise and be strong and make plays. But, really proud of how we fought, how hard we played, and how we defended, and the fact that we won.”
Burton is a Big Addition
Jamarius Burton made his long-awaited Pitt debut on Tuesday night, finishing with the below stat-line.
7 points, 1 rebound, 4 fouls, 25:10 MIN, 3 for 9 FG, 1 for 1 3PT.
“It was great to have JB out there, he gave us a calming influence. Obviously provides leadership. He is a good player, competitiveness, he’s a guy that talks. So it was good to have that. Knew he would be a little bit rusty, which he was, but he made some big plays for us, on both sides.”
Listen to Jeff Capel’s answer to my question about Jamarius Burton and the impact he has had on the team already.
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) November 2, 2021
“It feels good to have him back because I know he’s a smart guard,” Odukale said about Burton. “He doesn’t really want to rush anything. He wants the best shot for Pitt. Since day one that he was on campus, he’s been all about Pitt. He hasn’t been talking about himself. He didn’t say he wanted to be a pro. He always talks about Pitt and winning.”
Burton, a true combo guard, played both the point and the two in his debut, sharing the court with another big guard in Odukale for the majority of his minutes. With his addition, Pitt gains a confident shooter, a leader, and another scholarship player in a locker room that has been lacking all of the above early on this year.
New Lineup, Rotation Outlook
With the return of Jamarius Burton, Pitt’s rotation is going to look very different than the first two games of the season.
The first two games’ starting lineups were Odukale, Santos, Jeffress, Gueye, and Hugley.
Backup point guard Onye Ezeakudo played 22+ minutes in each of the first two contests, filling in for Odukale and at times playing alongside him due to the lack of backcourt depth. In Tuesday night’s win, he played just 13 minutes with Burton back.
Throughout the game against UNC Wilmington, Capel stuck with lineups of Odukale, Burton, Jeffress/Santos, Gueye/Oladapo, and Hugley.
This allows Capel to save Ezeakudo for times of need when a guard is in foul trouble, and also allows him to give some of the forwards more time in their specific roles.
After shaking off the rust in this first game and scoring 7 points in 25 minutes, expect Burton to start alongside Odukale either next game or over the next few, which will open up many different avenues for Capel to travel down with his rotations.
Panthers Still Adjusting on the Fly
In its season-opening loss to The Citadel, Pitt jacked up 17 threes, and made only two of them.
In the last two games, Pitt has only attempted four threes in each. So what changed for the Panthers, who have certainly looked more competitive in the most recent two games than the first one?
“Look, we’re not a good three-point shooting team right now, that’s the reality of it,” Capel said. “So, if we get good looks from three, we want to take them. But, that’s not who we are right now. Again, we are figuring it out on the fly. It’s been a challenge, but I love how these guys have shown up every day.”
Whether Capel’s staff told their players to stop shooting or not, the team has looked a bit more comfortable and has been playing to its strengths more often in these last two games. The part about that which Pitt should be appreciative of is that this team practiced all offseason with practically an entire different play style, centered around its two leading returning scorers, Ithiel Horton and Nike Sibande, who are both no longer playing for an indefinite amount of time.
“From July to November 6th or 7th, we had a way that we practiced, a way that we worked,” Capel went on. “We put in a lot of stuff and a lot of work especially on our offense. I felt coming into the season that that was an area where we could struggle. So it’s been really different how we have gone about this. It’s been the total opposite than what we’ve done in the past. Normally the whole emphasis is on defense and we work on offense, but I felt like we get better as the year goes offensively. We spent a lot of time on offense, not as much on defense. Then all of a sudden, a week before we play, we have two of our better guys on the perimeter that are gone.”
With the losses of Sibande and Horton, Pitt lost shot creators. Pitt lost shot makers. Pitt lost scorers. In Ithiel Horton, Pitt lost a 37% three-point shooter. In Sibande? A 44% three-point shooter.
“So now, all of a sudden, we are trying to figure out, do we still play the same way? Because it doesn’t fit kind of what we had. You saw some glimpses a little bit today with JB and Femi in there together, but, hopefully that is something we can continue to get better with as we get whole.”
Some glimpses of the styles, of the plays that Pitt was preparing for were visible when Odukale and Burton played alongside each other in Tuesday’s game. The two looked comfortable, especially against the press, which is something that Pitt struggled to adapt to against West Virginia.
Need to Close Out Games
While his team did play pretty solid defense down the stretch and came out with the ‘W,’ Capel’s team is going to have to improve on all cylinders, especially when playing with a lead.
The Panthers led by as much as 15 in the first half, and 13 at the break. UNC Wilmington did not look like it came to play and came out of the gates as cold as can be.
However, Pitt could not put the Seahawks away.
In the second half, the lead was cut all the way down to two. The Panthers let the lead dwindle all the way down to two, and could not bring it back up to where it had been in the first half. The troubling thing about this was that UNC Wilmington was not shooting, or overall playing, all that well. Thanks to solid defense in the last ten minutes, Pitt got away with making just one of its last 13 shots.
With tougher non-conference play coming soon as well as the ACC schedule, Pitt is going to have to figure out how to pull away and maintain leads.