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The 2018-19 Pitt Panthers basketball team have fought hard all season. They’ve shown heart, courage and skills that haven’t been seen in years, with most of the credit going to a first-year head coach that won’t let his team give up. Unfortunately, most of that has been overshadowed by a losing streak that’s just reached 11 as Pitt fell 62-48 to Clemson in the Penultimate game at the Petersen Events Center.
Marcquise Reed scored 14 points, Elijah Thomas added 12 points and eight rebounds and Clemson rode a hot start to fight off the Panthers’ second half comeback attempt and earn the 62- 48 victory over Pitt on Wednesday night.
“Another tough one for us tonight.” Said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “Congrats to Clemson. They really shot the ball well in the first half. They are an older team, a mature team, and a good team. They are a veteran team that has a lot of experience from a Sweet 16 team last year that has returned a lot of guys. When they are making shots like that, they are very difficult to beat.”
The Tigers (17-11, 7-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) made their first five 3-pointers and led by as much as 22, then clamped down late after the Panthers drew within 10. Clemson held Pitt to just 27 percent (12-of-44) shooting to beat the Panthers for the sixth straight time.
Freshman Xavier Johnson led Pitt (12-16, 2-13 ACC) with 14 points, but the freshman guard also committed eight of his team’s 13 turnovers. Sophomore Terrell Brown scored 11 points for Pitt, but the Panthers never led while dropping their 11th consecutive game.
I obviously wasn’t pleased with our offense or defense, especially our defense in the first half.” Said Capel “I thought them making shots like that really knocked us back even more. Their physicality looked a little bit like boys playing against men. I like how we fought in the second half. I thought we did some things a lot better. We played the zone, I thought that was a little bit more effective for us because we were more effective in it. The offense left something to be desired, but I thought we got some good looks when we moved the ball and the ball didn’t stick.”
The Tigers are trying to work their way to the right side of the bubble in search of their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. A misstep against the Panthers would have cost them dearly. Instead, they came out with the all-important victory.
Clemson needed less than two minutes to build a 10-point lead. Shelton Mitchell hit a 3-pointer on the Tigers’ first trip down the court. Reed added another on Clemson’s second. The Tigers hit their first five 3-point attempts in all, including a heave from David Skara as the shot clock expired that banked in and boosted the advantage to 18-5. The 3-point streak ended when Aamir Simms missed a wide-open look from the corner, but he atoned on Clemson’s next possession and the Tigers just kept on rolling.
The Panthers, as they did in the first meeting with the Tigers, pushed back in the second half, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. Pitt drew within 10 points twice in the final eight minutes but got no closer.
“I think its fatigue and the wall.” Said Capel “Its confidence, it’s a lot of stuff that we’re dealing with. But no one is going to feel sorry for us. No team that we play, certainly, is going to feel sorry for us. We can’t use that as an excuse. We have to figure out a way to be better in these situations.”
The Panthers have taken steps forward in head coach Jeff Capel’s first season, but the grind of the ACC has worn a young and undersized roster down. They will face another huge test as they Visit No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.
“The things that we can control, we have to do a better job at controlling those things.” Said Capel. “I thought we were doing that a little bit earlier in the season and we’ve had some slippage there recently. We have to keep fighting, keep getting better, keep working, keep teaching, and we will continue to do that, and we’ll get back at it on Saturday.”
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