Pitt’s game against Boston College was initially scheduled for Saturday. Then, a massive snow storm ran through the East Coast, postponing the game until Sunday.
Pitt was all ready to finally head out to Boston on Sunday morning, just hours before the game, and then the team heard even more unfortunate news: head coach Jeff Capel and assistant Jason Capel were not going to travel with the team due to COVID protocols.
“Obviously, when you lose your leader like we did with Coach Capel, that has a huge effect because it has been the voice that the guys have been responding to the whole time,” Brown said. “We found out that Coach Capel wasn’t going 15 minutes before we got on the bus. He had to give a speech to the guys, and then we got on the bus and went to the airport. I know that had a direct effect on them.”
The Panthers came out of the gates hot, taking a 13-5 lead and opening the game with some of the best offense that we have seen all year from that group. However, then, things got dark. Pitt went extremely cold, and ended the first half going almost ten minutes without a field goal.
“The one thing I was worried about, was, because of the unusual situation and the timing of being late getting in here, we started off like we shot out of a cannon, and then you could see a steady decline,” Brown continued. “The situation did wear on us.”
Pitt hasn't made a field goal in over 7 minutes.
Odukale 8 (2-5)
Hugley 5 (2-6)
Horton 4 (2-4)
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) January 30, 2022
In the second half, more of the same followed. The Panthers were cold as ever offensively, and trailed by as much as 22 in the frame. Near the end, they cut it to 11, but it was too little, too late, and the Eagles came out with the double-digit victory.
“Once you start playing, I think the situation we’re put in, as far as the travel and the playing the game in one day, I think that goes out the window,” Brown added. “And then it’s just a matter of trying to stay focused on the plays at hand. The issue is, the focus part and the damage has already been done. So when you’re trying to ask our group, which, they tried, to stay as locked in as possible in this difficult situation, when it starts to go the other way, it does make it difficult, especially on the road.”
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR HUGLEY?
Pitt’s leading scorer, John Hugley, turned the ball over a season-high eight times in Sunday’s loss.
Hugley went just 3 for 11 from the field, 3 for 7 from the line, and grabbed only five rebounds. So, according to acting head coach Milan Brown, what went wrong for the star?
“The first thing that happened was, all of the guys that were in the post with him realized that John had his way with them the first game,” Brown said after the game. “So the first thing I noticed was, their post played with a lot more pride. I knew that would happen, because, I can’t even imagine, how, because I know him, Earl was poking at their post to say ‘you need to play better against a guy that just demolished you a week and a half ago. That was the first thing.”
As it has done in pretty much every game this year due to Hugley’s dominance, Pitt continued to feed him in the post, whether the double teams came or not. Once he had the ball in his hands, it was all up to him. Hugley has become a very skilled passer over the year, especially in these situations, except on Sunday, it was a different story.
“Then, they sent the doubles a little quicker this time,” Brown continued. “I think when John made a few plays, he actually had a few baskets where he was off balance. I think he was trying to get away from the doubles too fast. He was a little too sped up. Early on, he was making some of the right passes to kick it back out, we made a few plays. They started rotating over a little bit quicker, and trying to make John see the furthest pass away from him. So John had to make a decision, well I could try to spin baseline sometimes and beat him, or look over the top. They did a good job of giving him just enough different looks to keep him off balance.”
GUARD SCORING A POSITIVE
Throughout the year, Pitt has looked to John Hugley as the team’s primary scorer.
Jamarius Burton has had his games leading the way, as have Mo Gueye and Femi Odukale as well. When Pitt is firing on all cylinders, all of them are scoring.
And although Hugley and Gueye struggled on Sunday, one of the positive takeaways from the game has to be the numbers put up by Burton, Odukale, and also Horton from the guard spots.
Odukale led the way with 16 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He also dished out two assists, grabbed five rebounds, and had a steal and a block. A career 57% free-throw shooter, Odukale also hit 7 of his 9 free-throw attempts in the loss, a 78% mark.
“He only had one turnover and that’s where it starts, you have to take care of the basketball,” Brown said of Odukale’s performance. “But I thought he played with pretty decent pace, he tried to get downhill, he’s very good at trying to get paint touches. I thought a few times he did a very good job of playing off two feet. He’s playing dead pivot offense where he is able to shot fake, get to the foul line, finish a few plays. Because he didn’t shoot it great, he had some plays that he has to finish. And that’s what we’re talking about growth. So when we look back and watch film with him and he is 4 for 11 today, we’ll definitely watch the film and say, ‘there’s no way you should not have been 7 for 11.”
Burton went 7 for 15 from the floor, finishing with 15 points. The senior grabbed four rebounds and had two steals in his 34-minute performance.
Lastly, Ithiel Horton came in after being reinstated to the program just days ago and scored 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. He made three of his seven three-point attempts, grabbed three rebounds, and also had two steals on the defensive end in his return.
HORTON UP TO SPEED AFTER TIME OFF
While the Panthers looked flat for most of the game on offense, Horton did show a sneak peak of his offensive skill set that has only been in use for now two games all year.
In his first game after his criminal charges were initially dropped, Horton scored 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including three threes. Now, with this 11-point performance on Sunday in just 23 minutes of action, Horton is proving that even though he was out for a while, he is still an offensive threat and with more time will surely develop into a top scorer for Pitt.
After the loss, Pitt headed back home for a few days to get ready for its next few games.
The Panthers will take on Wake Forest next, in an away matchup in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
At 17-5 with a 6-4 record in ACC play, the Demon Deacons will be one of the toughest tests for Pitt of the season, especially on the road. However, they are coming off a 92-74 blowout loss to Syracuse, who Pitt just defeated.
“The only thing I know how to do, and I hear Coach Capel say the same thing, is work,” Brown added. “You just have to continue to work and believe in us, believe in what we’re trying to do. Life doesn’t get easier because we’re on the road. It’s always hard when you try to get better on the road, when you try to heal yourself on the road. That’s part of us being and becoming a mentally tough team. You have to be mentally and physically tough to win in the road. We will get back, we’ll watch the film, we’ll see the pros and the cons and we will move on from it and continue to try and put ourselves in a position where we can be the best version of ourselves for 40 minutes.”