If you missed the Pitt Panthers basketball team’s game vs. the Marshall Thundering Herd and saw the final score of 112-106 and wonder “How in the world did Pitt give up 106 points???” My answer would be “I’m wondering that too, and I was there.” But seriously, I’m not as shocked as most, because this has been a trend with this basketball team so far this year. Scoring big on offense, but struggling big on defense. And this game pretty much took the cake.


This game reminds me of the Pitt football vs. Syracuse game in which they scored an incredible 76 points, but gave up an incredible 61 points. Something’s wrong there, and it’s painfully obvious what it is: Lack of defense.


But before I get into that part of the story, let’s focus on the good news: The Panthers did get their 4th  straight win and are now 11-2 and will prepare for Atlantic Coast Conference play which begins Saturday vs. Notre Dame. Pitt started off strong and went wire-to-wire vs. Marshall and got the job done.


Top scorers Mike Young and Jamel Artis both had 30 points, Sheldon Jeter had 21, which marked the first time that the Panthers had two players with 20-plus points and Cam Johnson came close as he added 16 before fouling out. The Panthers are continuing to reap benefits from Head Coach Kevin Stallings system, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of this type of performance. The Panthers were an incredible 41.8% from 3-point range with Artis & Johnson each hitting 3, Young hitting 2 and Jeter hitting 1. They were also excellent from the court, shooting 52% and 70% from the free-throw line.


The Panthers used the 3-pointer to start the game with a 6-0 lead and eventually stormed to a 20-8 lead. They eventually led 31-18 and 51-31, and when the first half ended, they went into the locker room leading 58-38. That kind of performance had Pitt looking like Paul Westhead’s 1990’s Loyola Marymount run-and-shoot teams, who averaged almost 120 points a year.


Let’s be honest, if you’re up by 30 at halftime, you can pretty much put it in cruise control in the second half because the game’s in the bag, right?


Wrong. We’re talking about the Pitt Panthers.


Which leads to the not-so-good part of the story. When the second half began, apparently the Thundering Herd lived up to its name because they started thundering back. Yes, the Panthers have still had a large lead, but you can tell that Marshall wasn’t giving up. Once again, my theory holds true: Opposing teams suddenly become good shooters once they step onto the Petersen Events Center court. The Force was obviously ‘Strong’ with them in the second half.


G Stevie Browning and F Ryan Taylor each had 22 points for Marshall as they drove through the lanes and passed some of the Pitt players like they were in EZ pass. But the real star for Marshall was G CJ Burks who led his team with 25 points and had an astonishing five three-pointers. Since he went 5-7, he was pretty much perfect from beyond the arc. G Jon Elmore had 19, which almost gave Marshall a chance to eclipse Pitt with four 20-point scorers. They continued to fight and eventually found themselves back in this game.


Do you want proof? Observe. When the second half started, the score was 62-38. With 12:08 left, the score was 81-59. With 8 minutes left, it was 90-69. And then you see the shift: It turned to 94-80 (6:03), 96-86(4:49), 105-98 (1:07) and finally, 112-106. Unless you saw David Copperfield out there performing illusions, there’s only one reason why the Panthers saw their huge lead disappear.


They thought the game was over and they got complacent and lazy.


The Panthers have problems putting teams away, and it’s because they’re not playing consistent on the defensive side of the court. Sure, they out-rebounded Marshall 43-39 with Jeter leading with 10, followed by eight from Artis, six from Young and five from Rozelle Nix who by the way, got more playing time., But the Panthers are struggling to keep teams out of the paint and are opening the door for easy layups, over and over again.


I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: If the Panthers are having problems shutting down the non-conference opponent, when what will happen when they play conference play. No matter if it’s Duke or Wake Forest, they will cause problems for this team if they don’t get their defensive issues together, and most of it is just hustling on the other side of the court and acting as they care about keeping the opponent from scoring.


Coach Stallings had this to say: “Sometimes it’s hard to play with a big lead.  If we don’t stay locked in for 40 minutes from now on, we all know what awaits us.” Yeah, no kidding Coach. A loss is inevitable when things like this continue to happen.


But since the Panthers won, I won’t focus on the bad news. I’m glad that they were able to hold Marshall off and it took all 112 of those points to do so. That is what they will need to succeed in the ACC. The defense, not so much.


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