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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Team Defense Becoming One of Pitt’s Strengths



PITTSBURGH — In its three-point victory over Colgate on Thursday night, Pitt showed once again that its defense is trending in the right direction.

After surrendering a season-high 87 points to UMBC, Pitt responded defensively in its next two games, holding Minnesota and Virginia to just 54 and 57 points, respectively.

On Thursday night, the Panthers’ team defense once again stepped up, holding Colgate, a team that is averaging more than 78 points per game, to just 68.

“It’s just, keep playing defense,” leading scorer John Hugley said after the win. “We’re not scoring, so we just keep playing defense until we can find that right punch. We found that punch and we got the score. Our defense was good today.”

“It was four areas,” Capel said when asked what the Panthers focused on defensively in the win. “The first one was transition. We really wanted to make sure we found guys in transition. Watching them, they got a lot of threes in transition.”

Number one, transition. On Thursday, Pitt held Colgate to just four fast-break points. Not allowing threes in transition. That’s good.

“The second thing was that we wanted to contain penetration,” Capel continued. “That’s another way they got a lot. They move the basketball and they assisted, I think they were averaging 18 assists a game, one of the tops in the country, so we really wanted to contain penetration.”

Pitt held the Raiders to just 13 total assists in the matchup, five below the team’s previous average of 18.

“The third thing was ball screen defense,” he went on. “We really wanted to do a good job there of making sure that we were connected and we have our rotations down. The very last thing was offensive rebounds. They got threes off offensive rebounds, which usually is one of the best times to get threes. So I thought we did a pretty good job in all four of those areas tonight.”

Colgate is averaging 9.89 offensive boards per game, so ten is right on average. Not too bad from Pitt’s point of view.

Overall, the Panthers are certainly proud of their defensive efforts and will look to use defense to win more games as the season goes on.


In Pitt’s two previous games against Minnesota and Virginia, the Panthers came about as close as a team can get to victory in both.

When Minnesota came to town, the Panthers surrendered a last-second tip-in off the hands of Luke Loewe for the loss. When they traveled to Virginia, the Panthers saw Virginia’s star, Jayden Gardner, sink them with a game-winning baseline fadeaway that trickled in.

“One of the things we talked about with our team when we got back together after Virginia was “almosts.” We’ve been a team the past few games, of almosts. We almost got the rebound. Or we almost whatever. One of the things we talked about was we had to get past almost. I thought we did that tonight. At the under four timeout, that’s all we talked about. Almost. We’ve got to beat almost. We’re tired of almost.”

They were so, so close to losing close games, and on Thursday, they showed that they were going to bring that streak of one-possession losses to an end.

After a back-and-forth last few minutes of the game, the Panthers drew up a play for leading scorer John Hugley to win it for them. Hugley delivered, sinking a lay up to give Pitt a two-point lead and seal the victory.

“The guys went out there and did that,” Capel continued. “We talked about Mo’s three-point play, and all the plays that I talked about. Guys stepped up and made big time plays for us and we were able to pull one out today.”

After finally getting back into the “W” column against Colgate, Capel knows that his team can do it. However, as he said postgame, he saw during the game, and even before the game, that his guys were determined to make the changes they had to make to get back on the right side.

“I could tell it all game,” Capel added. “One of the things that I’m really proud of with this team and I really admire with what we’ve been through and especially the last couple of games, how we’ve lost, how they have continued to get off the mat. When we lost to Minnesota, that preparation for Virginia was a couple of the best days that we had. The day before we played, on Thursday, before we left to fly there, I thought it was one of our best practices. I don’t think there was a coincidence with how we played, and I admire that because you just lost a heartbreaker. And then to go through whaat we went through there and to come back and then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we had really good attitudes, just really good practices. It’s good for them to be rewarded with a win and to be able to fight through and earn a win in the fashion that we did tonight.”


In Pitt’s 12-1 run to begin the second half, sophomore William Jeffress bailed out the Panthers twice, hitting two straight confident mid-range jumpers to beat the shot-clock buzzer.

Shortly after those two, Jeffress posted up on the block, gathered a pass from Hugley, and went up strong inside in traffic, drawing a foul, and then hitting both free throws. That is, again, something that he has not really done in his two years with Pitt.

In his first five games of the season, Jeffress made 8 of 31 shots from the field, a 25.8% mark. Since then, in his last four games, he has converted on 10 of 20 shots, a 50% spot. In that recent span, he has made six threes, compared to those first five games, in which he made 0.

If Jeffress can build off of these performances and become a consistent scorer providing the Panthers with a shot-creating threat, he can become an even bigger piece to this team than some would have ever guessed after his cold start to the year.


After his performance against Minnesota in which John Hugley put up 25 points, his head coach Capel spoke about how Hugley, being the team’s star, is going to have to deal with teams throwing anything and everything at him now that they had seen his film.

“We look at John as a freshman because he only got to play seven games last year and he had a some really good games towards the end, we thought he was coming on,” Capel said after the Minnesota game. “But, when you start to have some numbers like he did the first couple of games, then teams have tape on you. They start to game plan, they start to do different things. That is certainly going to happen from these last two games as we move forward. So there are little adjustments that you have to make and just teaching him how to do those. To work harder, to do you work a little bit earlier. To be able to play through contact, to be able to play in a crowd, to make good passes, to not force it at times, to let it come to you. I think he’s learning that as we go forward.”

Now, nine games into the season, Hugley is still putting up those monster numbers, even while playing limited minutes against Colgate due to foul trouble.

He finished Thursday night’s game with the following stat line.

22 minutes, 22 PTS, 8-13 FG, 6-8 FT, 7 REB, 2 BLK, 2 STL

Yet another impressive line from Pitt’s leading scorer on the year, who is now averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, which both lead the team.

He has proven that he can handle double teams by overpowering the defenders as well as dishing out passes to an open teammate. He has proven he can score on taller defenders. He has proven so much in so little time, and especially sitting out most of last year, he certainly has shown rapid development and has already looked like one of the most promising underclassmen in the country.

“It is a lot of attention on me, and I love it,” Hugley said. “Just getting these guys involved more. When I am getting double teamed, making skip passes out to my teammates, just being creative. This is the part of my game that I really love. Just picking defenses apart and just creating for others.”


Ever since Pitt lost its two top returning scorers from last year within one week of its season-opening game, it has been learning on the fly.

That task, to rebuild schemes, lineups, and rotations on the fly, is never going to be easy. Sitting at 3-6 through the first nine games of the year, Capel and the Panthers have learned to cherish every victory along the way of this rocky season.

“I think it was probably more relief,” Capel said after the game on the reaction in the locker room after the win. “I think they were tired because we battled. This was a good team. We battled, we fought. There was excitement, but I think there was relief that we actually pulled one out.”

John Hugley Comes up Clutch, Lifts Pitt Over Colgate

According to, Pitt now has wins over the No. 132 team in the country (Colgate), the No. 142 team (Towson), and the No. 284 team in the country (UNC Wilmington).

While those wins are certainly not where Pitt wants to be celebrating as a program, this year, the Panthers are going to take it one win at a time and appreciate all of the effort involved.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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9 months ago

The only workable defense on John Hughley is foul trouble. The teams has to be more aware of this and limit situations where he is exposed. With a premier shot blocker like Gueye, I wouldn’t play man all the time, get him into the middle of a zone. Colgate kept luring him outside to limit his defense. Helps Hughley too.


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