PITTSBURGH — Pitt played Florida State in their Senior Game Sunday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center, and while they were close to getting a much sought-after win, they fell short, losing 57-52.
The loss for the Panthers (11-17 overall, 2-16 ACC) against the Seminoles (16-12 overall, 10-8 ACC) was the ninth in a row and ensures a last-place finish in the ACC, the second time in four seasons for head coach Lance White. White noted that despite the loss, he is proud of his team’s performance and their growth, but that the execution in those close games needs to improve in the future if the team is to be successful in ACC play.
“You look at our last two games, and you look at the improvement of just the overall product, and you know I feel really good about that,” White said. “Obviously I’m disappointed that we couldn’t find a way to win. You look at the record and again, we’re so close. It’s still about our ability to execute in those moments that we have to learn.
The Panthers got off to a sluggish start on offense and the Seminoles took full advantage, going on a 10-2 run and forcing a timeout from White. Redshirt junior forward Erin Howard scored five points to lead the Seminoles with a 3-pointer and a layup.
Both teams struggled to score the rest of the quarter as Pitt outscored Florida State, 5-3, to cut the lead to 13-7. Pitt shot 3 for 13 (23.1%) and Florida State shot 5 for 18 (27.1%), and 2 for 9 from 3-point range in the first period.
“We’re defending people extremely well and we’re rebounding it well. Now it’s just that offensive part that’s the hardest part against big, athletic players. We have to find a way to execute together and that’s what we’re still missing. We’re still a little bit away from where we have to be in order to be competitive in the ACC.”
Pitt started on a 6-2 run to begin the second quarter, leading to Florida State to call a timeout with their lead at just 15-13.
The Seminoles held the lead throughout the period, outscoring the Panthers, 13-8 to take a 28-21 lead into halftime. First-year guard O’Mariah Gordon provided five points on a 3-pointer and a layup with less than a minute to go and senior forward Valencia Myers scored four points on two layups for the Seminoles.
The Panthers once again started strong, with an 8-2 run in the third quarter that cut the lead to one, 30-29. Florida State again countered Pitt’s fast start to the third period and outscored them 14-6 the rest of the wy to take a 44-35 lead going into the fourth quarter. The rest of the game for Pitt’s offense saw bad possessions leading to low-percentage shots and, as a result, Pitt had to foul Florida State to get the ball back, allowing for easy points. The Panthers had extra opportunities to win as Florida State shot only 5-for-9 from the foul line in the final minute of the game.
A big chance in the game for Pitt came when junior forward Amber Brown made a basket and got fouled with 14 seconds remaining. On the ensuing free throw, she missed, but there was a big scrum for the ball and as Myers was falling out of bounds with the ball, she called timeout.
White was furious with the call and said that the two referees had two different reasons to not call the play out of bounds and also give the ball back to the Panthers. After the game, White said that he didn’t understand one referee’s explanation about “not breaking the plane” which he disagreed with. He did agree with the other referee’s explanation, which was that the other players can call timeout, not just the ball handler.
The Seminoles held on after that as Gordon made her free throws, extending the lead to six and the Panthers couldn’t score quick enough to tie the game, losing by five.
Pitt did not make a single 3-point shot against Florida State, shooting 0-for-5 from behind the arc. White said that he is focused on finding shooters this offseason, a final piece in his mission to make Pitt look like an ACC team.
“We got to find some kids, kids that can really shoot it,” White said. “Again our goal for whenever I got here was that we had to look more like an ACC team, now when we walk on the court, you look at us and we’re long and athletic and we can bang with most ACC teams. Now the next piece is the basketball IQ, the skilled positions that now you have to be big enough and skilled enough to go win games.”
Junior guard Dayshanette Harris only played 15 minutes in the game, shooting 0-for-7 and scoring no points. White said that she jammed her finger and wasn’t able to handle the ball well enough as reasoning for her lack of minutes.
In her absence, sophomore guards Sandrine Clesca and Taisha Exanor, stepped up and provided points. Clesca scored seven points and made four assists as the primary ball handler and Exanor scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench.
Brown had her eighth double-double of the season, scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting and got 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard/forward Liatu King played one her best games of the season, scoring 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, just shy of a double-double.
Pitt finished their regular season tied for 14th in the ACC. Pitt will play Duke, who finished in 10th place, in the No. 10 seed vs. No. 15 seed game in the ACC Tournament, which is at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Mar. 2nd in Greensboro, N.C.