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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Pitt’s Fight with ACC’s Best Was Good, But Can’t Afford Late Cold Streaks

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PITTSBURGH — On Saturday afternoon, Pitt blew an eight-point lead to ACC-best Clemson, surrendering a late 9-0 run to the Tigers in front of an electric crowd in the Petersen Events Center and falling 75-74.

Despite the final ‘L’ in the win/loss column, the Panthers battled throughout the afternoon in front of what was arguably the best atmosphere the Pittsburgh basketball scene has seen in years. The Petersen Events Center was rocking all day as numerous Pitt players hit big shots and the Panthers battled for first place in the conference.

Despite the positives that emerged from the game on Pitt’s end, the Panthers cannot afford to cool down like they did down the stretch in big-time ACC battles.

After building its lead up to a game-high eight with just over five minutes to go, Pitt’s offense went cold, and the Panthers hit just three more field goals in the remaining five minutes. One of those was a three-pointer by Nike Sibande that was too little, too late as it went through the net with less than a second remaining.

Despite the late-game shooting struggles, head coach Jeff Capel was proud of his team’s effort after the game.

“This was a big-time game, and we were very fortunate to be a part of it,” Capel said. “I am really proud of my team. I thought we fought, and we put ourselves in a position to win.”

Pitt Blows Late Lead, Snaps Winning Streak with Loss to Clemson, 75-74

“We weren’t able to make shots down the stretch,” Capel continued. “I thought we got good looks, and they [Clemson] made some tough ones. They banked in a shot over some tough defense, we played good defense, they get an offensive rebound, and a guy that hadn’t scored in conference play makes a shot. That’s the difference in the game. These games like this when you have two good teams. It’s a tight battle. It just comes down to who can make a few more plays, and unfortunately, they did.”

CLEMSON IS A GOOD TEAM

With the win, Clemson took over sole possession of first place in the ACC with a conference record of 5-0 in league play. The Panthers fell to 4-1 in the ACC and move into a tie for second with Miami.

“The very first thing is that they’re a good team,” Capel pointed out about the Tigers. “That’s the very first thing. They have size, they’re very, very physical. They’re very, very physical. It was a really physical game throughout. I thought we were able to get to the paint and get some baskets, but for us, defensively, at the end, they were able to get to some spots and look, they made some tough shots. We were right there contesting the shots, and you give them credit, you tip your hat.”

The Tigers looked to Chase Hunter (17 points, five rebounds) and Hunter Tyson (15 points, ten rebounds) for offensive production. As a team, Brad Brownell’s squad out-scored Pitt 34-14 in the paint in the win.

From what we have seen so far this season, Clemson is one of the ACC’s best. The Tigers came into a raucous environment and downed the Panthers in different ways, proving that Pitt will need to put together a complete 40-minute game in order to win these big ACC matchups.

BURTON CONTINUES TO MAKE ELITE IMPACT

Pitt veteran guard Jamarius Burton posted 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting in the loss on Saturday afternoon, delivering his third game of at least 20 points and his seventh game with at least 15 points this year.

Burton’s scoring has been tremendous all season long, as he is now averaging 16.6 points per game, which is second to just Blake Hinson’s 16.8 and ranks in the top ten in the ACC (9th). He is also averaging more than five rebounds per game from the guard spot, and his 71 rebounds on the season tie for third on the team.

“We couldn’t guard him either half,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said about Burton. “He is just a really good player. He is a big, strong, physical driver. He’s a willing passer, made a great pass to Elliott at the top of the key for three one-time late. He’s experienced. The guy is a fifth-year guy, he’s seen it all. He’s not going to waver. He’s made huge plays in their games this week against Virginia and Carolina. He’s just uber-talented, competitive, and older, and he’s really good.”

Burton’s consistency has been key for the Panthers’ hot start to the season. He is now shooting 55.3% from the field, which ranks fifth in the entire ACC, and first among all ACC guards.

BENCH PIECES STEPPED UP

As starters Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko struggled to stay on the floor due to foul trouble, Pitt looked to its bench, bringing in Nate Santos, Guillermo Diaz-Graham, and Jorge Diaz-Graham to play big minutes.

All three seemed to show positive signs in the loss. Even Jorge, who was in for just 38 seconds. In that time, the rookie grabbed a rebound, drew a foul, and hit both of his free throws. His brother Guillermo saw the floor for almost 12 minutes and knocked down his lone field-goal attempt in one of the biggest shots of the game.

After Pitt took a 55-54 lead with more than 12 minutes to go, Diaz-Graham loaded up for a deep three from the top of the key and drained it, igniting the Petersen Events Center crowd into a frenzy as the Panthers built what was a game-high four-point lead with the shot. On the defensive end, Diaz-Graham was tasked with keeping Clemson’s powerful bigs in check, particularly PJ Hall. The freshman battled, grabbing five rebounds and forcing numerous misses by the Tigers.

Although Nate Santos struggled to get going shooting-wise (1 for 5 from the field), the sophomore provided help for the Panthers in other ways, grabbing five rebounds, drawing a foul, and hitting a first-half buzzer beating jumper, which had an extreme level of difficulty. Throughout his minutes struggling to hit shots, his teammates continued to look for him and encouraged him to keep shooting.

“It was big, the minutes that we got from Nate,” Burton said. “He’s out there battling for us. With him, regardless of if he makes or misses, it’s me and the other guy’s job to continue to give him confidence. That’s all you saw right there, was us continuing to put the battery in his back and tell him the next shot was going in, and we did that.

FRONT COURT DEPTH A CONCERN

Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko are arguably Pitt’s most physical forwards right now (while John Hugley is out). When both faced the tough, hungry Clemson offensive attack, both struggled to stay out of foul trouble.

Pitt was forced to look to the Diaz-Graham twins, who are certainly tall, but are massively under-powered against some of the ACC’s true bigs, including PJ Hall, who Guillermo spent a lot of time guarding in his 11+ minutes of play.

“Look, he’s not going to be physical, so he has to understand what his strengths are,” Capel said about Guillermo. “He’s got to use some quickness, he’s got to use some intelligence, and he’s got to use his length. I thought he did an amazing job defending him [Hall]. He contested shots, he got four offensive rebounds, he hit a three, he got fouled, he made a great shot fake in the first half, drove, and made a really good pass to Nate. He’s getting better, but I’m not surprised by that because he works.”

With a normal rotation of seven, maybe eight players, Pitt is going to have to stay out of foul trouble and keep its strong front court out there whenever it can.

STREAK SNAPPED, ONTO DUKE

Coming back from a loss like the one on Saturday — an energy-filled, back-and forth game in which Pitt surrendered a late run — is no easy task.

The task is made even tougher when the team’s next game comes at one of the most historic, rowdy environments in college basketball against one of the top 25 teams in the country.

Pitt now advances to play Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. on ACC Network. The Blue Devils sit at 12-4 on the year and 3-2 in the ACC and are led by a mixture of five-star freshmen, savvy veterans, and all-around talented players.

Coming back from the hard-fought battle that the Clemson game was will be a tall task for this team, but Capel says, win or lose, the mindset stays consistent within the locker room.

“We fought, we just came up a little bit short,” he said. “It’s really cool to be in a moment like this, but hopefully we can continue to play well and where we have more moments like this.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Clark Martineau
Clark Martineau
27 days ago

Pitt has seen the same defensive approach from its last three opponents; lots of hand checking, pushes in the back, and hedging out picks on our defenders. Bacot always moves on picks. Burton has been able to score because he is too strong for the opponents guards. Ball movement got Pitt open shots from Cummings, Elliot, and Sibande against UNC and Virginia. We just fell a little short against Clemson. The ACC refs are allowing this style of play and Pitt will have to adapt. But I don’t think any team is entitled to this type of “how much can… Read more »

Last edited 27 days ago by Clark Martineau

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