The secret to the Pitt Panthers success in the 2015-16 season is when they were consistent. Excellent play on offense when they were able to make baskets, (especially timely ones) and when they were able to play effective defense and make free throws. The key to Pitt’s failure? When their performance was exactly the opposite.
Such of a case happened in their first round of their NCAA Tournament game vs. the 7th seeded Wisconsin Badgers. The 10th seeded Panthers underperformed and fell to the Badgers 47-43 in St. Louis. Wisconsin moves on to play the winner of #2 Xavier/#15 Weber State, and the Panthers season ends.
Make no mistake, both teams didn’t play well as it was one of the lowest scores in NCAA Tournament history. Pitt shot an awful 37.5%(18-48) floor and an even worse 27.3% (3-11) from the 3-point line. But surprisingly, those numbers were slightly better than Wisconsin’s 32.1%(17-53) from the floor and 21.1%(4-19) from the 3-point line. But the most important stat that the Badgers fared better than Pitt-was on the scoreboard. And when they needed key baskets, they made them.
The best the Panthers could get was 13 points from F Jamel Artis. He was the only Panther who scored in double figures. Plus, he had all of Pitt’s 3-pointers, plus a huge one that got them within a point with over a minute left in the game. Meanwhile, the rest of the starters combined for 19 points as G James Robinson had 7 points and F Mike Young and G Chris Jones combined for 6 points.
Robinson’s subpar production hurt the Panthers the most as he was only 3-14 from the floor and missed all 3 of his three-point attempts. He also had a chance to win the game for Pitt with seconds left, but his attempted layup bounced off the rim. He did lead the team with 11 rebounds and 4 assists. This loss to the Badgers officially ends his college basketball career.
The Panthers were able to get 9 points off the bench from F Sheldon Jeter, but F Cameron Johnson could only muster 2 points which also didn’t help their cause.
Robinson actually gave Pitt a 2-0 lead with a jumper and he was very instrumental on defense. Artis then scored to make it 4-0, but the Badgers quickly made it 4-3 when F Zack Showalter hit a 3-pointer. Artis and Robinson then extended Pitt’s lead to 10-3 with key baskets, then Jeter joined the scoring party with baskets and suddenly Pitt had a 13-3.
But Pitt wasn’t done. After Wisconsin added 2 points, Artis hit his first 3-pointer and after Jeter and Jones scored, Pitt had a commanding 20-6 lead. Then back came the Badgers as G Charlie Thomas, Nigel Hayes closed Pitt’s lead. And when G Vitto Brown hit a 3-pointer, Pitt’s lead had shrunk to 22-16, which was the halftime score.
In the second half, Wisconsin got the scoring started when F Ethan Happ scored on a jumper. Jeter then made a layup on his own, but Happ was just getting started as his second layup and a free throw closed Pitt’s lead to 24-21. After Brown closed Pitt’s lead to 24-23, Happ was at it again, this time on a dunk which gave the Badgers their first lead of the night at 25-24.
Pitt quickly took back the lead on Young’s layup until Happ scored again, giving Wisconsin a 27-26 lead. Then Johnson scored his only points of the game, returning the lead to Pitt at 28-27. Artis then hit 2 free throws to extend Pitt’s lead to 3.
The score was 34-31 until Hayes’ 2 free throws closed Pitt’s lead to 1. Young then extended Pitt’s lead by 3 on a jumper, but then Hayes would score again to close the gap to 36-35. It would remain that way until Brown would hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 38-36 lead, but Artis would strike again-hitting a 3-pointer of his own returning the lead to Pitt at 39-38.
The score was tied at 39 when Robinson would give the Panthers a 1-point lead, but that would turn out to be Robinson’s final points of the game as the rest of his attempts failed to reach the basket. Then the Badgers would put the final hurt on the Panthers when Brown would hit another huge 3-pointer, giving the Badgers a 42-40 lead.
After a Pitt timeout, Artis would give the Panthers hope as his 3rd 3-pointer would pull Pitt to within 1 with seconds left on the clock. Pitt would get the rebound, drive the length of the court and miss a potential game-winning layup. The Badgers would eventually get fouled and add 2 more on free throws, and seal the 47-43 victory, giving Pitt another early exit in the Big Dance.
Happ would lead all scorers with 15 points, and also led his team with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. They weren’t exactly great in this game, but they were great when they had to be, and that’s why they will advance to the field of 32.
The Panthers will now lick their wounds as their offseason begins. They say goodbye to Robinson, (Graduate Transfers) Centers Rafael Maia, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and G Sterling Smith, and reserve G Mike Lecak. As a result, they will probably need to retool with more graduate-transfers and will be welcoming a new class of recruits for the 2016-17 season. It will also help the Panthers as their leading scorers return in Artis and Young, but here’s hoping that they use the summer to hone their skills in an effort at being more consistent. If they can improve, the Panthers will improve.
In conclusion, it was a good season for Pitt because after facing their struggles during the regular season, they still managed to make the NCAA tournament for the 13th time in 15 seasons, but this would’ve been a better season if they would’ve held onto beat the Badgers.
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