Since his suspension vs. Duquesne, I wondered about Pitt senior F Jamel Artis. Before his suspension, he was second on the team averaging 19.7 points a game and looked very much like the Robin to fellow senior F Mike Young’s Batman. After he had been reinstated, he didn’t look like himself in the victories vs. Buffalo and Penn State (Never Forget Classic) although he did average 16 points in those two victories.
But when the Panthers welcomed Rice into the Petersen Events Center something clicked in Artis, it wasn’t just about him getting his ‘mojo’ back, but he seemed recharged like a fresh car battery as he scored a career-high 31-points to lead the Panthers past the Owls 83-73. And the Panthers needed every one of those 31 points as the Owls justified their 8-2 start.
But Artis was on his game, and it truly benefited the Panthers as leading scorer Young wasn’t quite himself as he finished with only 12 points. Artis was also sharp from 3-point range as he hit a game-high 4 for the Panthers. He looked like he got his ‘Groove’ Back.
But it was truly a ‘coming out’ party for junior F Ryan Luther as he was the ‘hustle’ behind Pitt’s ‘muscle’ as he scored a career-high 20 points, including 11 in the first half. While the Panthers are still having problems being more consistent on both sides of the court (especially on defense), Luther provided that balance as he also led the team with seven rebounds. I think games like this can truly be a confidence builder for players like Luther and hopefully, it’s a start of things to come.
The rest of the Panthers weren’t too shabby either as they had a total of 4 players in double-figures with redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson adding 10 points in addition to Artis, Luther, and Young. Their bench wasn’t flashy but had key contributions as redshirt junior Jonathan Milligan hit a key 3-pointer and freshman Justice Kithcart added a clutch jumper to help extend the Panthers lead.
But like most of the Panthers wins, this wasn’t easy, and Rice made Pitt sweat for it. After the Panthers had taken an early 2-0 lead, the Owls proved the one thing that every visitor to the Petersen Events Center has proven when they face Pitt: That they can shoot. Maybe it’s something in the arena; maybe it’s ‘The Force’ (Ok, I did take my family to see ‘Rouge One, a Star Wars Story’ last night) but teams tend to catch fire against Pitt. (To be fair, Duquesne shot well against Pitt in the PPG Paints arena, but this is my story, and I’m sticking to it)
The Owls top scorers are G Marcus Evans (19.5 PPG), G/F Egor Koulechov (19.4) and G Marcus Jackson (12.7) and all three of them can shoot, and they did it well against the Panthers. Jackson got the scoring early for the Owls as he led them to a 5-2 lead, while Koulechov and Evans made key buckets to enable them to stay withing range of the Panthers.
But Artis and Luther would only allow the Owls to get so close as they hit key baskets to give the Panthers the lead for good as they took an 11-9 lead. Although the Owls tied the game 16-16 with over 11 minutes to play, the Panthers would lead the rest of the first half.
The Panthers still have problems being aggressive on defense as they allowed the Owls to drive in for layups several times in the first half. It also helped that Rice shot the ball well, much to the delight of their well-traveled fan section (who traveled from Houston) who cheered them on every basket, foul and offensive charge by the Panthers. Meanwhile, Pitt looked like this morning’s weather: Cold as ice. They began looking like the team that has struggled to put teams away and looked like the team that laid that huge egg against Duquesne. But through it all, the Panthers were able to hold onto a 41-37 halftime lead.
In the second half, I felt like I had a deja vu moment as the Panthers looked sloppy and the opponent dominated. The Owls were able to tie the Panthers 50-50 with over 11 minutes left in the game, but that was the last time Pitt wouldn’t have the lead. Johnson immediately hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt a 53-50 lead, and they then took it to another level, especially after Young began to wake up and contribute. Artis and Luther would lead the team the rest of the way while the Owls shooting wasn’t as consistent and the Panthers secured the 83-73 victory, improving their record to 9-2. To be honest, it seems like Pitt lost more than two games, but the record stands as it is. Rice fell to 8-3 as they now begin Conference USA play.
For the Owls, Jackson led his team with 20 points on three three-pointers, Evans also added 19 points, and Koulechov added 13 as their Big Three did all they could to keep their team in the game. But the Panthers Big Two of Artis and Luther was just too much for them.
“A peculiar game.” Said Pitt Head Coach Kevin Stallings “We had to grind. I appreciated what our guys had to do tonight to win the game. You have to embrace the game even if a game is played in a way that you don’t like it.”
On Artis & Luther Stallings said “Jamel and Ryan were terrific, but the key for us was holding them [Rice] under 40% shooting in the 2nd half.”
Apparently, Stallings wasn’t as pleased with this win, but I think this was one of their better victories if there’s ever such a thing. I still think the Panthers can be more aggressive, especially on defense when it comes to rebounds and defending the paint, but I feel that they had a look that they weren’t going to lose this game, especially without a fight. The Panthers were ready to fight and got the W because a fighter always has a chance. Mostly because Artis fought hard because he got his ‘Groove Back.’
Notes: The Panthers will play December 21st again as they welcome Omaha to the Petersen Events Center.
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