PITTSBURGH — Pitt women’s basketball came back from a double-digit halftime deficit against Coppin State but fell just short in the 61-56 loss Tuesday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (1-4) are off to their worst start since 2003-04, Agnus Berenato’s first season as head coach, when they also started 1-4. This is just the second loss to the Eagles (3-3) in the all-time series, which the Panthers lead 3-2, and the first since 2003. It is also the second straight loss at home, as the Panthers fell to their rival in the West Virginia Mountaineers on Nov. 11.
Coppin State would open up with a 10-4 run to begin the first quarter, but Pitt would keep it close, down just 20-15 at the end of the period.
The Eagles increased their lead by going on a 13-2 run to start the second quarter. Junior forward Taila Lawrence scored six points on three buckets in the paint and redshirt junior guard Tiffany Hammond made two 3-pointers to lead the Eagles on the run.
Coppin State took a 43-27 lead going into halftime, as they shot 15-for-25 from the field, 60%, and 7-for-12 from 3-point range, 58.3%, while Pitt made 10 of their 27 shots from the floor, 37% and 2-for-8 from behind the arc.
“We were stagnant on offense, we weren’t disciplined on defense,” Pitt senior forward Liatu King said on the first half performance. “I mean, we weren’t disciplined on both sides of the ball, but defensively, we just weren’t there to help, we weren’t communicating. We did all the things we shouldn’t have done, and I felt like that decreased our confidence and gave a boost, motivation to Coppin State.”
The Panthers came out of halftime the better of the two teams, outscoring the Eagles 14-1 in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. The Eagles would eventually score some points, but the Panthers managed to cut the lead to just six points, 53-47, at the end of the period.
Both teams struggled immensely in the fourth quarter shooting the ball, with Coppin State making one of their seven field goal attempts and Pitt shooting 4-for-18 from the field.
King, who scored 13 points in the third quarter, kept the Panthers in the game and cut the deficit to one point with about two minutes remaining with layup.
Pitt would then score 0 points the rest of the game as junior guard Bella Perkins missed four 3-point attempts, leading Coppin State to make some free throws and win by five points.
Panthers head coach Tory Verdi liked the response from his team in the second half but disliked the poor start to the game. He wants to see more urgency from his players and more consistency from them throughout the game to put together some wins.
“We need to figure out how to win,” Verdi said. “I think that’s what I’m trying to teach this team. You win by playing every possession like its the last possession of the game and we’re not there yet.”
King led Pitt women’s basketball with 22 points and 11 rebounds against Coppin State for her third double-double this season. She shot 10-for-20 from the field, 50% from the field, while the rest of her teammates combined shot 12-for-40, 30%, forcing her to take on a large responsibility offensively for Pitt to have success.
“Like all in all, I feel like it’s what we do in practice,” King said on her teammates’ struggles offensively. “We struggle, I guess to say, we struggle…if the ball isn’t going to me, we struggle with everybody else and I feel like it’s really just getting in the gym and it doesn’t even necessarily have to be like jumpers, getting layups, working on how to pass because those things, those little things will help us get the ball in the hoop. So, I feel like when we’re not doing that, when we’re not working on our craft and stuff like that, that obviously hinders us when we play.”
This game also served as the annual School Day game for Pitt women’s basketball. This game sees students from across the region come to support the team in a game each year, functioning as a field trip, but also as a great way for the program to build relationships with future fans, something Verdi is doing as a part of his long-term project to build his team into a contender.
“It’s very important,” Verdi said on the School Day game. “Whenever we can get the community involved and just connect with them is a blessing. We have players that are great role models and the more that we get out in the community, the more connections we can make, getting them on campus, getting them for camp during the summer and getting them back in the Pete and just showing them that there is an importance for women’s basketball and just to appreciate the product that we’re putting on the floor and my goal is to put that product on the floor and for people to leave here and appreciating what they do and how they do it and that’s where we’re going to continue to work. Whether it’s in the gym or in the community or in the classroom, we’re going to give our best and we will get this fixed.”
Pitt women’s basketball will travel to Dayton Beach, Fla. to take on Northern Kentucky on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the Dayton Beach Classic.