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All season I have made this statement: “As Pitt Panthers Senior F Mike Young goes, so does Pitt.” And to be honest, Mike has proven me correct most of the season. When he has scored 20-30 points, the Panthers have won (see last week’s game vs. Syracuse), and when he has scored under 10-20 points and didn’t play his best, the Panthers would usually lose. And It didn’t even matter what Senior G Jamel Artis did,(and he did a lot) it was Young who was the ‘Straw that Stirred the Panthers Drink.’
Well, Michael, you proved me wrong.
As Pitt welcomed 17th ranked Florida State to a sold-out Petersen Events Center and pulled off a huge 80-66 upset over the Seminoles, surprisingly it wasn’t because of what Young did as he scored 11 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists, it really wasn’t Artis although he added 16 points on three-pointers, but it was the third Senior who led the Panthers in this game: Sheldon Davon Theodore Jeter.
Jeter had a career day, leading all scorers with 29 points and 8 rebounds as the Panthers improved to 15-12 and improved to 4-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) it was another example of how good this team can be when they show up to play, and for the second straight Saturday, the Panthers did just that. Yes, the Panthers lost to Virginia Tech on Valentine’s Day, but that was a game that they should’ve won, especially after they led 40-29 at halftime. It’s very possible that the Panthers could be on a 4-game losing streak, but instead, they’ve won 3 out of their last 4, which is just as impressive after an 8-game losing streak.
But back to Jeter. He was fantastic. Ever since the Panthers signed him from Vanderbilt, I have admired his game. He’s proven to be a valuable player off the bench and occasional starter, but in his senior year, he’s been mostly a starter and hasn’t disappointed. He’s averaging just under 8 points a game, but he had a 21-point effort earlier in the season vs. Marshall and is averaging a career-high 7.5 rebounds. It’s been a good year for the young man.
But this game for Jeter was also a motivating one as he had to bury his grandfather earlier this week. It’s no surprise that he played this game for him. And make no mistake, his grandfather would’ve been proud as Jeter also hit 4 of 5 three-pointers and was truly a force on both sides of the court. The Beaver Falls native filled in admirably for Young and made it seem like they didn’t even need him, especially in the first half when Young only scored 2 points, as Jeter scored 11.
As a team, the Panthers didn’t look intimidated by the much larger and much-bigger (Ex: 7-1 C Michael Ojo and 7-4 C Christ Koumadje) Seminoles, who have proven their mettle this season after upsetting a superb Louisville team 73-68, and an 88-72 win vs. Duke. So the Panthers knew what they were about to get into, with their most impressive victory coming against nationally-ranked Virginia and a near-upset over top-ranked North Carolina.
It certainly didn’t look promising for the Panthers at the beginning of the game as they opened with a 10-5 lead. But there was something different about this Panthers team as they didn’t faint under pressure, it honestly seemed like they embraced it as they stormed back and eventually tied it 13-13 and 15-15 midway through the first half. And who led the way? Jeter, of course. And he also had a little ‘help’ from his friends as G Chris Jones added a few free throws and Artis and G Cam Johnson also contributed. Jeter then gave the Panthers their first lead of the game on a jumper that gave them a 21-20 lead, then after the Seminoles took a 25-22 lead, Young and Artis helped tie the game at 25, and then Pitt HC Kevin Stallings made an unexpected move: he sat most of the starters (except Young) and brought in the reserves, and one of them gave Pitt back the lead redshirt J Jonathan Milligan’s 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 28-25 lead.
But Florida State just wouldn’t let up as they eventually took a 32-29 lead with over 3 minutes left in the first half, but then back came the Panthers as they eventually took a 35-34 lead thanks to timely free throws by Johnson and Jones. It’s amazing that Jones finished the game with only 7 points as it seemed like he was always at the free-throw line, as he finished the day going 5-6. Amazingly, when the Panthers took that 35-34 lead, they never trailed again.
Johnson hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 39-36 lead, and they went into the locker room leading 41-37.
I’m sure many folks wondered if the Panthers would suffer another second-half meltdown like they did vs. Virginia Tech, but they did not. In fact, they stepped up their game even more as they stormed to 51-41 lead to open the second half. Jeter and Johnson led the way with the major 3-pointers. On defense, the Panthers were getting rebounds as Jeter, Freshman G Corey Manigault and Big Man Rozelle Nix each grabbed Florida State’s misses, which the team turned into points on offense.
With over 10 minutes left, Pitt led 60-48 when the Panthers that we’ve seen began to show up. You know, the team that has been a bit clumsy at times as they would turn the ball over, miss baskets and lack defense. Such a thing took place, and Pitt suddenly saw their huge lead dwindle to 61-58 with over 8 minutes left.
After a timeout by Stallings, the Panthers refused to give in as they once again stepped it up against Florida State. A basket by Jones and a huge 3-pointer by Jeter helped extend Pitt’s lead to 70-62, but they weren’t done. Young and Artis added to the mix and Pitt eventually regained their 10-point lead en-route to the 80-66 victory, bringing the Pete capacity crowd to their feet as they celebrated the effort of their team.
This win was also special because Pitt wore their retro uniforms, which paid tribute to the 1980’s Pitt teams that were led by Charles Smith, Jerome Lane, Sean Miller and HC Paul Evans. I honestly think that Pitt should make those sweet unis as their permanent one’s next season.
For the Seminoles, G Xavier Rathan-Mayes led with 12 points, and six assists and G Terance Mann led with seven rebounds. Florida State is now 21-6 and 9-5 in ACC Play.
“When we concentrate, focus & play w/ energy & urgency for 40 minutes, we’re capable of being a pretty good basketball team,” Said Stallings “That was fun. I’m proud of them.”
On Jeter Stallings said “”Sheldon was unbelievable. That was as good a performance as we’ve had this year.” I totally agree with Coach.
With the season down to 4 games, the Panthers will travel to play Wake Forest on Wednesday before returning for their final home game of the season in a rematch with North Carolina next Saturday. It will also be the Senior night for Young, Artis and the Star of the Day, Jeter. Here’s hoping they can finish what they started when they played the Tar Heels the first time around.
The Panthers may not have had a good season, but they’ve had some excellent moments, and this game was one of them.
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