PITTSBURGH — Pitt played an abysmal first half of basketball on Sunday night against Monmouth, and while the Panthers made it close near the end, when people think back to the Monmouth game, all they are going to remember is that rocky start.
The Panthers opened the scoring, taking a 2-0 lead after Will Jeffress cut across the baseline and finished a lay-up. However, after that, that two-point lead would be the only lead that Pitt had for the entire game.
“In the first half we were really bad,” Jeff Capel said after the game. “I thought that led to our lack of energy, or not playing with energy. We weren’t connected today like we have been and that’s disappointing.”
“I thought we didn’t practice well yesterday, and I thought that led to what we did today,” Capel explained. “We weren’t fully connected like we had been. So I was surprised. I was surprised by yesterday, by how we were in practice, and it carried over to today. So it’s probably more disappointing.”
Pitt made two of its first 18 field goal attempts. It turned the ball over nine times in the first half, which was a larger number than made field goals in the half (6). Outside of John Hugley, who was facing double teams since the start, no Pitt player had more than two points. The Panthers went 0-7 from outside, with Monmouth practically daring them to take any three they wanted.
At the half, Monmouth leads 36-19 over Pitt.
Monmouth: 13-27 (48%) FG, 5-11 3PT (46%)
Pitt: 6-27 (22.2%), 0-7 3PT, 9 TO
Papas with 14 for the Hawks. Pitt looked about as flat as possible all half. Payton's put-back dunk was really the lone highlight
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) December 13, 2021
This offensive slugfest led to negative energy and frustration from coaches, players, and soon after, fans. There were no signs of life in the Pete, and things were looking very bleak online as well among fans. While Pitt pulled things together defensively in the second half and made it a game, that horrendous start is inexcusable and may pose a very large issue if it happens again during conference play.
The Panthers finished the loss with 15 turnovers, just above their average of 14.3 per game (ranks No. 242 in the nation).
Pitt also made just 9 of 26 of its layups, a 35% mark. For perspective, Monmouth, on the other hand, finished 8 of its 11 layups.
Part of the layup problem was Hugley, who went 4 of 12 from the field, being double teamed and guarded as physically as possible by multiple Hawks every time he was in the paint. Nate Santos also missed a few in the lane while Monmouth pulled away. But overall, the Panthers struggled mightily within short range of the basket, turned the ball over at a high rate.
“Double teamed me from the beginning of the game,” Hugley said after the game. “[They] just tried to throw me off my game, off rhythm, and they did a good job of it, so props to them.”
JAMARIUS BURTON A BRIGHT SPOT
Throughout the year, John Hugley has undoubtedly been Pitt’s best player. Averaging 15.9 points and eight rebounds per game, the 6-foot-9 workhorse has been as tough as they come in the paint and has dominated most of his games this year.
However, behind Hugley, the Panthers have looked pretty rough, other than a few bright spots.
Second-leading scorer Femi Odukale has had five games with at least 14 points, but has looked inconsistent in others and has also been playing through an ankle injury the past few games. Then comes Jamarius Burton, who is now averaging 9.9 points per game after his 15-point outburst against Monmouth.
Burton has looked confident shooting the ball all year, but his shots just haven’t been falling at a high rate. He is averaging more than 11 shots per game, but hadn’t made more than five in a game since Sunday night.
Jamarius Burton and Femi Odukale have combined to go 7-11 from the field for 20 points in the second half, bringing Pitt back into this one.
Panthers trail by 8 with 3 and a half minutes left.
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) December 13, 2021
In the loss to Monmouth, Burton hit one of his two three-point attempts, a shot which gained Pitt some momentum and sparked a rally that eventually came up short. Burton did only have one assist and racked up three turnovers, which are certainly not the best sign for a ball handler, but if he can keep up as the team’s third-leading scorer every game and continue his efficient shooting, Pitt’s offense will look much more versatile.
TIME TO START ODUKALE
After missing Pitt’s game against Virginia due to an ankle injury, guard Femi Odukale has come off the bench in each of Pitt’s last two games.
Walk-on Onye Ezeakudo started the Virginia game as well as both of the last two games in place of Odukale, and had some spectacular moments. For a walk-on, his production, and talent in general, has blown away many outside of the program. He looks like a division one point guard. He has hit big shots down the stretch for Pitt, taken care of the ball pretty well, and set up his teammates in more big moments.
Onyebuchi Ezeakudo drains the three to give @Pitt_MBB the late lead!! 👌
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) December 4, 2021
Against Monmouth, Ezeakudo struggled, going 0-3 from three-point range, 0-2 from the free-throw line. He also turned the ball over three times in the loss.
While it is important for Odukale’s ankle to heal and get to 100%, in those two games back, Odukale still played 22 and 28 minutes, while Ezeakudo played 26 and 31. If he is going to play that many minutes anyways, Odukale, one of the team’s most talented creators, should be in it from the start.
Ezeakudo has earned a significant role for Pitt throughout the year, but Odukale should be the starter the next time the Panthers take the floor.
ST. JOHNS LOOKING MORE AND MORE LIKE A BRUTAL MATCHUP FOR PITT
Pitt now has five days off before its next game on Saturday against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.
Through ten games, the Johnnies (8-2) have the ninth-best scoring offense in the entire nation, putting up an average of more than 85 points per game. The Panthers, on the other hand, rank No. 336 in the nation in scoring, averaging just 60.5 points per game.
St. John’s is led by Julian Champagnie, the brother of former Pitt star Justin Champagnie. This year, Champagnie is averaging 20.3 points per game, while shooting 47% from the field as well as 43% from three-point range.
To Pitt’s credit, it has held three of its last four opponents to under 60 points. However, defeating the Johnnies is certainly going to be one of the tougher tasks that it will see this year.