Pitt played one of the uglier basketball games of the 2021-22 season Wednesday night at Florida State.
Given the result, a surprise win over the Seminoles, they might want to try for more of those.
The Panthers mucked their way to a 21-point first half, shooting 25% from the floor, 15% from 3-point range and only 56% from the free-throw line.
Pitt has seen some poor first-half performances this season. In fact, it might be what the team has become most-known for. In two games against Virginia Tech in the past week, the Panthers had first-half totals of 17 and 22. So they were pretty much right on pace.
The difference between what happened in Tallahassee and what happened in two games against the Hokies happened at the other end of the floor.
While Pitt was re-lining the rafters of Florida State’s Tucker Center with bricks, the Seminoles were doing much the same. Leonard Hamilton’s squad’s first half read much the same as Pitt’s: 18% from the floor, 18% from 3-point range and 62% from the free-throw line.
Playing ugly offense is not new. But that sure was. The Panthers have been short on shooting all season and have struggled to develop consistent offense outside of post presence John Hugley. Pitt is No. 236 in adjusted offense according to KenPom.com. They’ve been better defensively — No. 137 according to KenPom — but it hasn’t been consistent enough, or more importantly, come in the times when Pitt really needed it, when its offense was struggling.
The Panthers seemed to unlock something in that regard on Wednesday. Despite their offensive inequities, they never lost their composure, and never lost the lead once they grabbed it. They leaned on Mo Gueye’s eight blocks and some rough Seminole shooting and just battled through the mud.
“It was a sign of maturity tonight,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “We’ve shown in spurts throughout this year that we can be pretty good in spurts. We need to show that we can be consistently good.”
The somewhat ugly brand of basketball isn’t going to chase away Pitt fans starving for victories, and even the golden years of Pitt basketball weren’t always kind to those seeking offensive highlights. This is a town that will embrace a team that likes to play in the muck.
“Coach always says keep it like a rock fight,” guard Ithiel Horton said. “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.”
It seems that messaging from Capel is starting to get through, and it sure helped to have Horton available to hit seven 3-pointers and finally lift the offense into at least mediocrity in the second half. But even with Horton again a lineup regular after missing the first half of the season with legal issues, Pitt is not going to be the kind of a team that can shoot with the rest of the ACC on a night-in, night-out basis.
There does not appear to be the kind of talent influx for the 2022-23 season on the horizon that would change that formula. If Pitt and Capel are going to pull out of the slide they’re in, being able to embrace results like Wednesday’s would go a long way.
“The big thing for us is can we have continuity with it?” Capel posited. “Can we have it where it becomes who we are? That’s the test.”