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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Pitt’s Offensive Struggles Led to Lazy Defense in Blowout Loss to Syracuse



In Tuesday night’s loss to Syracuse, Pitt came out of the gates pretty strong for a group of players that had never faced the Syracuse 2-3 zone.

In the majority of the first half, the Panthers were looking to crack this famous Boeheim zone, and behind Mo Gueye and Pitt’s guards, they did just that.

Gueye cleaned up the boards for second-chance points, nailed a three, and distributed the ball to the open guards when the defense would crash down on him.

Femi Odukale confidently hit two three-pointers while also moving the ball around the outside well. So did Jamarius Burton. So even though John Hugley was struggling to get going inside, the Panthers led by as much as eight in the first frame.

Then, it all came crashing down. Very hard.

“I thought we got off to a good start,” Jeff Capel said after the game. “I thought we played well until the under-four timeout. Our offense, not being able to make shots and turning the basketball over really affected our defense. We didn’t defend well for the last part of the first half and the whole second half, which led to us being very poor offensively.”

Syracuse, behind Buddy Boeheim, went on a 27-5 run that spanned from the last few minutes of the first half all the way deep into the second half. While Pitt struggled on offense, those struggles, as Capel said, then affected its defense.

“We cannot let our offense, our inability to not make a shot, affect what we do defensively,” Capel continued. “I thought we didn’t talk well on the defensive end. I thought there were moments where we didn’t compete well on that side of the floor. You can’t do that, period, and especially against an offensive team like Syracuse.”


Coming into this season, guard Femi Odukale was ready to become a leader and a star for Pitt after shining in the team’s last few games of 2020-21.

While he has had his fair share strong games, scoring 13+ in seven matchups, Odukale has also posted six games of seven points or less, struggling to create at times.

Against Syracuse, Odukale shined in the first half, dropping ten points on 4-for-5 shooting, including 2 for 3 from three-point land. He looked like a complete player, driving to the basket, working the ball around the wing, and confidently knocking down his outside shots.

In the second frame, Odukale slowed down and only added on a few points to finish with just 14.

Odukale, primarily a slasher with excellent length, is starting to shoot more and more threes, which is a great sign for Pitt. If he continues to hit the outside shot at a high clip like he did in the first half, Odukale will become what many think he has the potential to be: an All-ACC level, versatile, lead guard.


After the game on Tuesday, Capel was asked about the impact of guys like Nate Santos and Chris Payton, two players who have not played much at all lately but came in and delivered a spark in their minimal minutes against Syracuse.

Santos came in and played nine minutes near the end of this one, subbing in at the wing for a struggling Will Jeffress who went 0-5 from the field and 0-4 from three. Santos came in and knocked down 2 of his three three-point attempts, and also grabbed three rebound in his limited time. While he did turn the ball over twice, Santos’ quick offensive impact raised questions from fans all over: Why hasn’t he been playing more?

“He [Santos] always has his chance to work his way into the rotation,” Capel said. “We have practices everyday, and things like that. So, we think Nate’s a good player. He’s helped us this year, he can help us going forward. But, those things are earned by what you do in practice on a day-to-day basis, not just because he made two shots today. I think Nate is a really good shooter, I think he’s going to be an outstanding player, I love him, I’m glad he’s in our program, but he’s got a chance every day to help us.”

On the season, Santos is now shooting 36% from the field as well as 28% from three-point range.

Payton, on the other hand, played just over one minute in the game. He came in and hit an inside bucket, kickstarting the Panthers and giving them a bit of energy in the final moments of the game.

“I thought Chris came in in the last minute 21 and at least he talked and played with some energy defensively. I don’t think it’s a coincidence we got a stop when he was in there, because he was the guy that was talking. So hopefully that is something that can bleed over into practice these next couple of days. Maybe we can have a guy that can help us on Saturday.”


Last season, Pitt took down Syracuse twice, winning once by three and then ten days later blowing out the Orange by 20. However, as Capel said after the loss on Tuesday: that was a completely different team last year.

“They were playing zone, so the zone kind of packs the defense in,” Capel said. “There’s not a lot of space in there. And then with our inability to shoot the basketball and make shots from out there, they started packing it in a little more. But the zone, at times, can be difficult for post guys to get touches right near the basket. The zone was designed to take that away and get it to shooters. If you don’t have shooters, then that makes the zone a little bit tighter.”

Pitt Postgame Show: A Bad Matchup or Did Syracuse Loss Expose Pitt?

Pitt made 18 of its 47 field-goal attempts, as well as 7 of its 22 threes. Both of those stats hovered right around Syracuse’s numbers, but the difference was the timing.

Pitt came out freezing cold in the second half, surrendering the lead and never taking it back, partially due to the suffocating Syracuse zone.

“The zone in the second half made us hesitant, made us stand,” Capel went on. “That’s what this zone can do at times, it makes you stand. And it can affect you defensively too because it’s a slower pace. You’re spending time moving the basketball side to side, trying to get it inside and out, so at times I thought we were a little bit hesitant.”


Pitt’s next game comes on Saturday, when it will take on Louisville at home.

This will be the Panthers’ second matchup against the Cardinals in ten days, although this time, Pitt will be without Ithiel Horton.

Now, coming off of an upsetting 16-point loss to Syracuse, Pitt will have to forget about this game as fast as possible and move onto Saturday.

“We just didn’t play hard enough, you know,” Gueye said after the loss. “I’ll take responsibility for that. There were some plays where I just let the offensive end of our game affect the defensive end of our game. We knew this was going to be a game of runs, you know, they shoot threes, so of course they are going to go on runs.”

Gueye and the Panthers now stand at 1-4 in the ACC, but have put up fights against both of their next two opponents, falling to Louisville by just three and Virginia by just one earlier in the season..

“I don’t think it will be that different, because we had this game,” Gueye said about coming back from the loss to Syracuse. “We had this game in the first half. The way we were playing, it was a game that was very winnable. We just needed to continue to do the things we were supposed to do and not let up. Rebounding from this won’t be difficult. We have a hungry team. We don’t come in every day and just play, we try to come and win every single game we can. There’s always fight in us, there’s always fight in our team, and that’s just how we are going to be. Fight until we get the win every single time.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson
8 months ago

This is my assessment of this team, they have the talent to win but they lose focus of the little things necessary to win. Boxing out, making free throws, communicating on defense and most importantly having fun. You guys have been playing this game your whole life, quit overthinking things and play YOUR game, PLAY TO YOUR STENGTHS.


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