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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Embarrassing Slow Start Plagues Panthers, Upsets Fan Base

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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.

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.

SIMPLE MISTAKES

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.

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.

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.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Rob Radich
Rob Radich
9 months ago

Worst Pitt team in 45 years.

Mtgj
Mtgj
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob Radich

No way it’s worst than the Kevin stallings team. This team would beat that team by 20

William Driscoll
William Driscoll
9 months ago
Reply to  Mtgj

The Kevin Stallings team had guys that could score. Marcus Carr, Wilson Frame and Parker Stewart could make 3s. This team can not score enough to beat anyone by 20 points. 3 losses to UMBC, Monmouth and the Citadel were terrible considering in each game they were blown out. This is the worst team in modern Pitt basketball history. That is the case because they lost Toney, Champagnie, Johnson, Mcgowens, Horton and Sibandi all in the last year. You can not lose your top 6 experienced players that were actually good and expect miracles.

TMG
TMG
9 months ago

Attitude reflects leadership. The coaches and scouting staff recruiters picked these players because they really liked their games. ???????? what part?

lorin Flickinger
lorin Flickinger
9 months ago

When will the Pitt athletic director pull the plug on this current coach & staff? This is obviously not working…And appears to be getting worse.Losses to the Citadel, and Monmouth would have been unthinkable in the Jamie Dixon days.But these losses are now the norm….Its time for a coaching change now…..Why wait?

Dukes

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