By Ray Porter Jr.
PITTSBURGH, PA–One of the biggest traps to a team is their game after a huge win. It’s so easy to think after you put on a dominating performance against one team, that all you really need to do is show up and the rest is history. Unfortunately, in most cases, that team ends up crashing back to earth against their next opponent.
Such was the case with the Pitt Panthers basketball team after they opened the season with an 80-58 win over UT Martin. It was easy to think that their next game would be a cakewalk as they welcomed the West Virginia Mountaineers to the Petersen Events Center, but unfortunately, they crashed back to earth in an 81-56 Backyard Brawl loss.
“First of all, congrats to West Virginia. They played a tremendous game,” said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “They’re really good at chaos and they create chaos with their defense. You know, we turned it over. We didn’t display the poise that’s necessary to have a chance to win against a team like that, but the way they defend, I thought it would take us a little bit to get settled into the game, which it did.”
Guard Joe Toussaint led all scorers with 16 points, fellow guard Erik Stevenson added 16 as West Virginia shot 52.6% from the floor and added 8 3-pointers. They were also 13-19 from the free-throw line. They out-rebounded Pitt 30-27 and forced 19 Pitt turnovers. Their in-your-face style was too much for the Panthers Friday evening.
“I thought we started making some plays stronger with the basketball,” said Capel. “And when we did that, we got a little bit of a lead. I thought they made it even more chaotic, and we didn’t handle that well. You know, we had some foul trouble with lineups that we’ve never practiced with. And again, they caused that with the relentless pressure they put on you.”
In addition to the turnovers and questionable calls, what hurt Pitt the most was the unity and synergy of West Virginia. They even began the game with a 3-pointer from Stevenson and eventually led 8-2. Although Greg Elliott and the Panthers stormed back and eventually took a 13-10 lead, they couldn’t keep up with the aggressive and consistent style of the Mountaineers as they not only regained the lead, but also ended up taking a 47-36 halftime lead.
The 2nd half wasn’t any better as the Mountaineers led by as many as 15 points. The Panthers could only get as close as 11 until the Mountaineers delivered the knockout punch with 10 points in the final 5 minutes.
The Panthers’ scoring also had its challenges, especially after Elliott (12 points) left the game due to injury. At the time, he was leading Pitt in scoring, but Jamarius Burton finished the game leading Pitt with 16 points and tying Nate Santos with 7 rebounds. Blake Hinson, who led Pitt with 27 points in Monday’s win, was only able to muster 5 points in this game. Nelly Cummings also added 8 points before fouling out late in the second half.
As much as this loss may hurt the Panthers, the good news is that it’s only the 2nd game of the season, and this team has plenty of time to make improvements, and adjustments and establish an identity. But the lessons learned from this game must come quickly as they will face #17 Michigan in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, NY.
“And so again, they were terrific. You know, tough for us. Tough for us, disappointing but we’ll use it,” Capel said. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll get better and looking to learn from him.”
Notes: Capel praised the crowd for their atmosphere: “First of all, the atmosphere was outstanding, and especially our students’ section, you know, they have been outstanding so far. But you know, we’ve tried to do things with them and, and you know how they were the first game, how they were tonight, they were here early, they were in the lobby, they were standing in the rain, all those things. So, we’re incredibly grateful for it, just disappointed that our performance wasn’t worthy of the energy that they gave. They kept it going throughout. They were cheering us on- so grateful for that. And hopefully, that’s something that continues.”
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