Ithiel Horton has only played in six games this season, with one coming at the end of December, and the other five coming almost a month after that first game.
After a tricky legal situation that forced Pitt to suspend from the team for months finally came to a close in late January, there was now, months later, a chance for Horton to find what he was looking for: rhythm and consistency.
However, in each of his first five games back with the team, he played under 30 minutes. In his last three games before the Florida State matchup, he had only made one three.
On Wednesday, It was time for him to find that rhythm.
“It felt really good,” Horton said about his performance at FSU. “It felt really good to be in some type of rhythm. It felt really good to have confidence out there on the floor. It felt really good to be back to myself. I’ve had a tough, rough year this year and it just felt really good to just come out and break out.”
Horton did just that, breaking out for 25 points, a career high for him in a Pitt uniform, on 8-for-16 shooting. He shot eight shots per half, knocking down three in the first half and five in the second half. From the 19-minute mark to the 13-minute mark in the second half, Horton hit five threes in a row. He was finally back, and he got back behind doing what he has always done best: shooting the three.
“This phrase kind of stuck in my head, what coach was saying before the game: ‘Just throw your fastball,'” Horton said. “My fastball is my shot. My fastball is my aggression and passion on defense. So I am going to continue to keep throwing that. We’ve got NC State and [Dereon] Seabron next, so we’re going to see what happens, see if we can keep it going.”
Horton’s legal case came to a conclusion on Jan. 26, as his four initial charges were reduced to two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of public intoxication. With his aggravated assault felony charge being dropped and the judge ordering him specific community service guidelines, he was finally allowed to return to the team.
“Just listening to motivational things,” Horton said. “Not just searching up generalized things but searching up things that are key and directed towards what is going on with me right now. I am reading a book, “I Never Learned to Doubt”and it has really been a huge and tremendous help to me. Plus, I have my mom at home. She’s very spiritually anchored, she’s my spiritual anchor, and so listening to her and listening to my dad just telling me to just keep going and to put that whole situation behind me.”
Horton is now averaging 9.5 points per game for the Panthers, while shooting 39% from the field and 45% from three-point range.
BURTON IN THE CLUTCH
Everyone is going to remember his game-winning jumper at Madison Square Garden, but that was not the only time Pitt’s Jamarius Burton has stepped up down the stretch to will the Panthers to victory.
In Wednesday night’s win at Florida State, Burton struggled early on. In the first 35 minutes of play, he only had two points, and those came on a made layup within five minutes of tip-off.
But then, Burton went into attack mode.
He confidently hit each of his last four field goal attempts down the stretch, all coming within the last five minutes of the game. He stepped up and drained two big free throws with 25 seconds left. He had carried the Panthers to victory.
THAT'S JB AGAIN 😤😤😤
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) February 10, 2022
“Just for me, regardless of if I am playing good or not, just continuing to encourage myself mentally, just self-talk,” Burton said about what he was focused on in the second half. “That’s really what I was doing over there on the bench. Just continuing to talk to myself, recite scriptures, everything that I can to really just stay locked in.”
HELPING IN DIFFERENT WAYS THAN SCORING
In Wednesday night’s win, Ithiel Horton was the standout with 25 points. Jamarius Burton took over late, scoring 11 points in the last five minutes. However, besides those two, Pitt used contributions from its other players, in other facets of the game than scoring, to take home the victory.
Mo Gueye had six points, six rebounds, and a season-high eight blocks in the win. John Hugley, who had struggled the past two games, posted seven points and eight rebounds in the low-scoring affair. Femi Odukale, although he went 0 for 8 from the floor, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists. William Jeffress, who logged ten minutes of mostly first-half action, grabbed six rebounds in his limited role.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) February 10, 2022
After describing the impact that Burton and Horton had in the win, Jeff Capel focused on this supporting cast, highlighting the little things that it did to pull out the ‘W.’
“I thought the rest of the guys, I mean, Will to have six rebounds all in the first half, I thought he played really strong,” Capel said. “Mo to have eight blocks. You know, it’s interesting, looking at the stat sheet and seeing that Femi was 0 for 8 and 3 for 7 from the free-throw line, but I actually thought it was one of his best games from the floor. I thought he controlled the game for us. He made good decisions, we got the switches, he attacked and made good passes. He had seven rebounds, played good defense.”
ANOTHER SLOW START…
Although Pitt went into halftime with the lead for the first time in 5+ games, the score was only 21-20 and the Panthers offense looked as ugly as it has all season at points.
“Coach always says, ‘Keep it like a rock fight,”’ Horton stated after the game. “I really don’t know what that means, but it’s stuck in my head. We’re just being really comfortable in that. I didn’t even know we had 21 points in the first half.”
Florida State is an atrocious 5 of 24 from the field this half and Pitt is only leading by one
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) February 10, 2022
Slow starts have plagued the Panthers all year, especially during that four-game losing streak over the last 1-2 weeks of play. If Pitt wants to stay on a winning track, it is undoubtedly going to have to take advantage of future opponents’ offensive struggles early on.
BRING MOMENTUM BACK HOME
As Capel has said throughout the year, any win is a big win for this Pitt team. Although Florida State had lost four-straight games coming into Wednesday night’s loss, so had Pitt. It was a big win for a program struggling to find positives recently, and the Panthers will try to keep the momentum going on Saturday.
The Panthers sit at 9-16 with just six games left on the schedule, including Saturday’s contest against NC State.
The Wolfpack have lost five straight games, including two losses to Notre Dame and a recent 18-point beatdown by Wake Forest. NC State is currently the worst team in the ACC with a 3-11 record in conference play, and if Pitt wants to surpass ten wins on the year, this is going to be its best chance.
The game will tip off at 3 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center, with the action televised on ACC Network.