PITTSBURGH — In Pitt’s loss to West Virginia on Friday night, the Panthers started off strong, but it didn’t last long.
Sharpshooting Marquette transfer Greg Elliott hit three straight threes — including a four-point play — igniting the Pitt crowd into a frenzy early on in the return of the Backyard Brawl.
However, things quickly went south for the shorthanded Panthers. Turnovers, misses, and fouls started to pile up. With ten minutes left in the first half, Pitt’s leading scorer from game one, Blake Hinson, was on the bench with two fouls. Then came Jamarius Burton picking up his second. Those two sat for the majority of the rest of the half, while West Virginia built its lead.
But it wasn’t just Hinson and Burton. Five of Pitt’s players racked up at least two fouls in the first half. Big man Federiko Federiko, who started in place of an injured John Hugley, had two as well. Nelly Cummings picked up his third foul of the half on a charging call right near the end of the half.
The Panthers were only down by 11 at the half and had their starting five out there to begin the second frame with a fresh start. However, the second half quickly showed that it would be more of the same. Cummings was called for another charging foul early in the second half on a floater attempt (which he made). The basket was called off, and Cummings had his fourth foul. West Virginia immediately went down and hit a three.
“We got into ourselves,” Greg Elliott said after the game. “Once the game got a little bit tougher, we hit adversity. It was our first-time hitting adversity as a team and it’s a new team so everybody felt like they can do it on their own. You had multiple players where you can say we look like we tried to do it on our own. West Virginia plays team defense. it may look like one person is pressing you, but their whole team is pressing you.”
Throughout the rest of the half, the Panthers continued to pick up fouls, and with each one came more disarray for a team that was desperately trying to come back.
Even if the officials may have been a bit whistle-heavy, Pitt has to have more accountability and awareness on both sides of the ball if it wants to compete this season.
STILL COLD FROM OUTSIDE
Coming into this season, Pitt focused on adding shooters to its roster.
The Panthers brought in career 41% three-point shooter Greg Elliott, career 36% three-point shooter Nelly Cummings, and career 33% three-point shooter Blake Hinson. They also returned Nike Sibande, a career 34% three-point shooter, after a Torn ACL sidelined him for all of last year.
While Pitt shot the ball well from deep in both of its exhibition victories, the Panthers have struggled from outside in their two regular season games.
Against UT Martin, Pitt shot just 27% from three-point range, hitting 11 of its 41 tries. In Friday night’s loss to the Mountaineers, Pitt went just 5 for 23 from three-point land (22%). Aside from Elliott’s three early threes, the Panthers hit just 2 of their 20 attempts from beyond the arch for the rest of the game. In the second half, they did not hit a single of their 11 three-point attempts.
Whether it was a combination of West Virginia’s pressure and early-season jitters or not, the Panthers have yet to play with what we believed would be their strength: strong outside shooting.
ELLIOTT BRINGING ENERGY TO THE PETE
Marquette transfer Greg Elliott’s confidence and energy has been a positive sign this year so far for the Panthers.
After game one against UT Martin, Pitt fans praised Elliott for hyping up the Oakland Zoo throughout the game, igniting the crowd in a way that Pitt hasn’t done in the past few seasons.
Then, against West Virginia, Elliott hit three threes in the first five minutes, leading the Panthers on a 13-2 run and building a five-point lead. Elliott surely plays with emotion, and during this run, he was in another zone.
Greg Elliott can make shots even when he’s not set!! Already with 9 points and a trio of triples to give Pitt an early 14-10 lead over WVU.
— Tristan Freeman (@hoopsnut351) November 12, 2022
“The atmosphere was crazy,” Elliott said after the game. “It was a great crowd to play in front of. I just wish it wasn’t all for not. It was not representative of our team. I don’t want the Oakland Zoo to feel like they didn’t show up tonight and do their thing tonight, because they definitely did, and we’re going to make up for that.”
PANTHERS HOPING FOR HUGLEY
Plain and simple, Pitt needs John Hugley. We’ve known this, as Hugley is one of the top players in the entire conference. Behind him, Pitt is just very thin in the front court.
“We need John, but this game is not just an example of that,” Capel continued. “John is one of the better players in our league, and so we definitely need him, but again, that had nothing to do with tonight’s outcome.”
Federiko Federiko played 32 minutes in the loss to West Virginia, filling in for Hugley. While he provides good length on the glass and shot-blocking ability, he is not much of an offensive threat aside from catching lobs and setting screens.
Federiko is unquestionably an important piece of Pitt’s long-term future, but in the short term, with teams like Michigan and VCU/Arizona State ahead on the schedule, the Panthers face a tough dilemma: Do you play Hugley the second he is ready in Brooklyn, or do you hold him back in a plan to save his health for conference play?
“Hopefully, he can start doing some contact stuff in practice starting next week,” Capel said about Hugley on Friday. “If he does that, if he’s able to do that, and has a couple of good days, there is a possibility that he can be available for Wednesday.”
Pitt takes on Michigan and All-American big Hunter Dickinson on Wednesday in Brooklyn at 6 p.m.
PLENTY OF SEASON LEFT, FAVORABLE SCHEDULE AHEAD
Obviously, the result was not what Pitt wanted on Friday night.
Pitt now sits at 1-1. The Panthers were without their best player (Hugley) for both of those games, and in the first game, they showed plenty of positive signs. With Hugley on the court at full health, this is a completely different team.
Although the Panthers have Michigan up next and either VCU or Arizona State after them, they do have a favorable schedule in between this early-season slate and conference play. Translation: They have time to figure this season out.
The Panthers have more talent than past years. They have veteran experience. They have a star in Hugley. The mistakes they have made so far are fixable, and the layout of Pitt’s schedule will allow them to fix those.
After the Legends Classic, Pitt has Alabama State (No. 347 in Kenpom rankings), Fairleigh Dickinson (348), William and Mary (336), Northwestern (69), NC State (72), Vanderbilt (90), Sacred Heart (303), and North Florida (225) on the schedule before the heavy slate in conference play. Pitt has plenty of time to get Hugley back, stack some non-conference wins, and heat up heading into conference play.