In case you didn’t notice, it was ‘Throwback Day’ at the Petersen Events Center as the Pitt Panthers took on the Nebraska, Omaha Mavericks. But unlike your average Throwback Day, it wasn’t about the uniforms (although I wish the Panthers would don the 80’s uniforms of Charles Smith, Jerome Lane and Sean Miller) but it was about the outcome of the game. It’s really no surprise that Pitt beat Omaha, but they destroyed them 94-75.
If you still don’t get my point, then please just look at the score. This is the first game this year’s non-conference schedule that the Panthers totally dominated an opponent. They weren’t sweating bullets and fearing that they would lose their first game in front of the sparse crowd (I know, it’s Christmas Break for the students, which explains why there was hardly an ‘Oakland Zoo.’) and they experienced what it’s like to put away an opponent.
You know, like the old days.
Remember the days when Pitt treated their non-conference schedule was like a glorified sparring session? Better yet, you remember when Pitt treated that non-conference schedule like the Harlem Globe Trotters basketball games? I sure do. You didn’t have to think twice about if the Panthers would beat their non-conference opponents by at least 25-30 points. Pitt would beat some of those teams so bad that I think some of the starters would probably sneak out and watch the rest of the game from their dorms if they had the chance.
Like the Globetrotters scripted wins vs. the poor Washington Generals, you could always expect the Panthers to get a huge win in these type of games as they would use them as a tune up for Conference play in the old Big East Conference and then the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) I remember former HC Jaime Dixon getting criticized for not scheduling better non-conference opponents, which he finally did in his last season before leaving for TCU. Some of those Pitt wins were so boring, that I felt like the real challenge of the night was what I was going to eat for dinner when I got home.
Wednesday night’s game was a throwback to those games for Pitt. They totally shut down Omaha despite what they tried to do. Like the other non-conference teams, the Mavericks shot well against Pitt, but they weren’t consistent enough to keep it going. Meanwhile the Panthers took over the game and made a statement that they were just more talented than Omaha, plain and simple.
But before you go putting the Panthers in the NCAA Tournament, it didn’t start off easy for them. In fact, they gave us a heavy reminder of how today’s Pitt Panthers were when they struggle: Sloppy, missing shots, lackluster defense and playing like their heads weren’t in the game. Harsh statements huh? Well, I get paid to tell the truth.
Omaha stated the game with a 4-0 lead, because they stole the ball from Pitt on offense. To no surprise, the Panthers stormed back, because of their talent level and their ability to ‘turn it on’ when they need to. They had 9-6 and 11-10 leads before Omaha showed what they could really do. Baskets by F Tre’Shawn Thurman, G JT Gibson and G Tra-Deon Hollins gave the Mavericks an 18-14 lead. And once again, the Panthers had that look like they did in their loss to Duquesne in the City Game: Lost.
It was during that time, when last week’s 31-point scorer, Jamel Artis emerged to get his Panthers back in the game. He hit 2 free throws, a layup and a jumper to give the Panthers a 21-20 lead with over 8 minutes left in the first half. F Ryan Luther, fresh off his 20-point game vs. Rice then help add to their lead, as did F Mike Young, but then Artis hit a huge 3-pointer to extend their lead to 27-21. At that point you might have thought that the Panthers were ready to ‘book’ another win in their 2016-17 basketball season.
But then you knew better.
Not sure where Young’s head went, but he got the ball stolen from him twice in the span of 10 seconds by G Marcus Tyus, who hit two 3-pointers and suddenly the Mavericks tied the game at 27. But Tyus wasn’t done as he made another basket to give his team a 29-27 lead. After Thurman gave his team a 31-28 lead, it seemed like the Panthers were about as fed up as Popeye the Sailor Man when he would get beat up by Bluto. It almost seemed like they uttered Popeye’s famous words “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stand n’more.” now I’m sure the Panthers had no time to eat any spinach, but how they responded after that was how Popeye responded after he ate his souped-up vegetables.
The Panthers had had enough and stormed to an 18-2 run to close out the first half and when Young would hit a 3-pointer right before the first half ended, the Panthers had a 46-33 lead. I will be honest with you, if you blinked or went out of the room, you would’ve missed it.
In the second half, the Panthers kept it going. No matter what the Mavericks tried, they didn’t have a chance. They used a collective effort to put away Omaha and when Young hit a jumper to extend the Panthers lead to 85-65, Head Coach Kevin Stallings decided to give the starters the rest of the night off and brought in the reserves. You know just like the old days.
Out went Young, Artis, Luther, Cameron Johnson and Sheldon Jeter and in went Justice Kithart, Jonathan Milligan, Damon Wilson, and the Big Guy, Rozelle Nix. And of course, Nix bought the crowd to its feet as soon as he hit the floor, but he also bought groans from that same crowd as he committed 2 fouls in 30 seconds. But he eventually shook those off and made quite the impression as he did his Shaquille O’Neal impression when he hit 1 of 2 free throws and then he did his Kareem Abdul-Jabarr impression when he his skyhook landed in the basket, bringing the crowd to his feet. He was also Dennis Rodman on the boards as he grabbed 4 rebounds. 3 points and 4 rebounds in 6 minutes. Not bad. Will he start the next game? He should get a chance, but I doubt it.
The reserves kept the scoring going as they eventually sealed the 94-75 win. As for the starters, Young got his ‘Groove’ back and led Pitt with 24 points and 11 rebounds while Artis resumed his role as the ‘sidekick’ with 19 points and tied Young with three 3-pointers. Johnson was also impressive as he added 16 points and Luther continues to make a statement as he added 11 points and set a school record with making 15 shots in a row.
For the Mavericks, Thurman led with 18 points and 9 rebounds and 4 other of his teammates also scored in double-figures, but it wasn’t clearly enough as the Panthers put them away.
“I’m proud of these guys.” Said Stallings on his team. “They’re buying what we’re selling.”
The Panthers will now close out their non-conference schedule vs. Marshall December 28th. It’ll be a final chance to put away a non-conference foe before starting ACC play vs. Notre Dame New Year’s Eve.
You know, like the old days.
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