Non-conference games aren’t supposed to be as challenging, and they’re certainly aren’t supposed to go into double-overtime. The favored team in those games are never expected to get a challenge or a scare from their so-called lesser opponent.
Apparently, the Pitt Panthers basketball team wanted a more challenging non-conference schedule and after welcoming the Metro Athletic Conference (MAC) favorite Eastern Michigan Eagles to the Petersen Events Center for their season-opener, the phrase “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” comes to mind. Because the Panthers almost ‘got it’ by losing their first opening game in years.
But such an event didn’t happen as the Panthers were able to hold on and beat the Eagles 93-90, but it took double-overtime to do so as the Eagles proved to be the type of formidable non-conference foe that the Panthers were seeking.
“These first games are hard.” Said new Pitt HC Kevin Stallings. “It’s not an art contest, it’s a math contest, and we added up more points tonight.”
The objective of Pitt’s new offense was to create more scoring opportunities and make it more-wide open almost like the old Paul Westhead Run-and-Shoot of Loyola Marymount. New HC Kevin Stallings ran this offense during his years at Vanderbilt and wanted to change up the flow for Pitt as they were used to the slower tempo offense that was run by former HC Jaime Dixon.
The Players were excited about it, and when they took the floor for their first regular-season College Basketball game vs. Eastern Michigan, they couldn’t wait to try it out.
Two of the players who truly benefitted from Stalling’s new offense were senior forwards Jamel Artis and Mike Young who scored over 20 points in their season debut. Artis scored a game-high 27 points which included four 3-pointers and Young scored 26 and added ten rebounds to lead Pitt to their first win of the season.
“Jamel is a terrific zone offensive player.” Stallings said of Artis “We tried to build a lot of what we did around him.”
The biggest challenge for Pitt was their defense as they struggled to put Eastern Michigan away in regulation. Several Eagles players were able to drive through the lane and make baskets uncontested and make clutch baskets.
Pitt opened the scoring with Young draining a jumper and eventually took a 6-2 lead with another Young basket and a layup from G Chris Jones. But Eastern Michigan weren’t pushovers as they stormed back to tie the game at 6. Then F Jamel Artis hit the game’s first 3-pointer, giving Pitt back the lead at 9-6. But then G Willie Magnum’s tip-in closed Pitt’s gap to 9-8. Then Pitt F Ryan Luther’s jumper extended their lead to 11-8.
With 12:52 left, Pitt extended their lead to 16-10 thanks to a layup by Brandon Johnson and another 3-pointer by Artis. Jones’ layup would extend it to 18-10 before the Eagles stormed back to close it to 18-16. But Luther inched Pitt’s lead to 20-16 with two free throws. Young and Sheldon Jeter would help extend Pitt’s lead to 26-19, but then Eastern Michigan would close it to 26-22 thanks to Magnum’s impressive 3-pointer.
With 4:29 left, Pitt led 30-24 until Young would extend it to 33-24 on a 3-pointer. Young and Jeter would extend Pitt’s lead to 40-31 to close out the first half.
In the second half, Pitt started off slow, and Eastern Michigan started off strong as they closed Pitt’s lead to 42-40. Artis would then hit a jumper to extend Pitt’s lead to 4. Then Young and Jeter would extend Pitt’s lead to 50-40 with two 3-pointers.
With 11:58 left, Young would extend Pitt’s lead to 56-48 with a free throw; then they led 61-52 with over 9 minutes left. Then Artis would hit his 3rd 3-pointer of the game as Pitt led 64-52 before a media timeout.
The score remained the same until Eastern Michigan closed Pitt’s lead to 64-56 after Pitt freshman Justice Kithcart missed two free throws. They would add two more on free throws closing Pitt’s lead to 64-58.
Pitt’s struggles would lead to the Eagles benefit as they would close the gap to 64-61 on G Ty Toney’s 3-point play. Young would extend Pitt’s lead to 66-62 with a tip-in before another Media timeout. But the Eagles would go away as they would tie the game at 66 with two free throws.
But then Johnson would return the lead to Pitt with a huge 3-pointer and then Jones would add to their lead with a layup. But then F Tim Bond would close it to 71-69 with a huge 3-pointer of his own. Pitt would commit a costly foul, sending Eastern Michigan to the line with 13.9 seconds left. G Tim Bond would make 1 of 2 free throws before Young was fouled and would make 1 of 2 free throws. Artis would miss a long 3-point attempt sending this game into overtime.
Pitt would begin the OT period with two free throws by Jones before G Ray Lee would give Eastern Michigan their first lead of the game on a 3-point play. Artis would then close the Eagles lead to 77-79 before the Eagles would extend it to 79-76. Young would then tie the game at 79 with a jumper and free throw.
Young would then give Pitt the lead on a 3-point play. But then the Eagles would immediately take the lead back with 41.7 seconds left. Artis would them tie the game after hitting 1 of 2 free throws. With 6.4 second left, Pitt would get the ball and then Jones would hit a potential game-winning 3-pointer sending the game to the second overtime.
Young would begin the 2nd OT with a missed 3-point shot, but then the Eagles would use two free throws to take an 85-83 lead. Young would then tie the game at 85 on two free throws of his own. Then Jeter would give Pitt the lead on a jumper. Jones would then extend Pitt’s lead to 89-85 with two free throws.
With 1:34 left, the Eagles would close Pitt’s lead to 89-87 before Artis would extend it to 91-87 via two free throws. But the Eagles weren’t done as they hit a 3 to close Pitt’s lead to 91-90, but then Artis would extend Pitt’s lead to 93-90 with 6.4 seconds left. The Eagles would attempt a game-tying 3-pointer, but it bounced off the rim as Pitt held onto the 93-90 victory, giving Stallings the first Pitt victory of his career.
Jeter added 12 points, and Jones 10, and Johnson 9-before is fouling out in the first OT. For Eastern Michigan, Bond led with 21 points before fouling out in the first OT; C James Thompson led with 13 rebounds and Toney led with six assists.
“I am very proud of my team.” Said Stallings. “I thought we made some gutty, big-time plays. Our guys fought hard and did a nice job.”
Ray’s Take: Pitt wanted more challenging non-conference foes, and they got what they asked for. Eastern Michigan was never a pushover, and they proved it in this game. They realized that Pitt wasn’t as aggressive on defense and they exploited it. Coach Stallings needs to get his team focused on that part of the game and quickly. On offense, the Panthers looked as formidable as the offense allowed, but it shouldn’t take a double-overtime to put away your opponent. To be honest, they looked like the football team in basketball uniforms. Very impressive games by Young and Artis, who looked like they were about to score 30 points, apiece.
Pitt’s next game will be Monday night vs. Gardner-Webb at 7 pm at the Petersen Events Center.
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