Panther-lair Three-pointers: The takeaway from Pitt’s final game of the season
Missed opportunities, needing more offense and a freshman emerging – here are three key takeaways from Pete’s loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Every loss is defined by missed opportunities, and Pitt certainly had his fair share in Sunday’s game.
Outside of poor shooting – 6-of-20 from three – and an inability to rebound offensively – Pitt had 10 despite missing 43 attempts from the field – there were several key stretches when the Panthers could have put some pressure on the Knights but just fell short. to do that
One such stretch came early in the second half when Jacques Nong Xavier fouled a third and came off the bench. Xavier’s trainer Sean Miller kept Nong there for about five minutes, seemingly opening the door for Pete to attack Edge in a way that Nong’s size had prevented until that point in the match.
Jeff Capel even tweaked his lineup with an emphasis on offense, bringing up guards Nellie Cummings, Jamarious Burton, Nike Sipande and Greg Elliott and forward Blake Henson. And at first it worked, as Burton scored on his way to the hoop shortly after Nong had gone to the bench.
But that was almost all Pete got from Nong’s absence. After a Burton corner kick, Elliott missed three and Burton missed another try. Sibande scored on a drive, but then Burton made one stop and missed a jump shot, and Hinson missed a putt attempt and caught Sibande on a jump shot.
Pitt was under 15 when Nong went to the bench; When he returned, the Panthers were down 16.
This stretch wasn’t Pete’s only missed opportunity in the game. The Panthers went up 15-14 at halftime, but made one basket on their next seven possessions and went from a one-point lead to a 10-point deficit.
Pitt finally got his punt going in the final seven minutes, but even then, the Panthers’ chance to cut the lead to seven with two minutes to play ended in a turnover when Burton Elliott slipped open to pass to Cummings.
Pitt reached the round of 32 by taking chances against Mississippi State and Iowa State, but they were unable to take advantage of Sunday to make the Sweet Sixteen.
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Pitt’s defense looked very strong against Mississippi State and Iowa State, with the former holding on to 59 points and the latter’s 41.
But the Bulldogs and Cyclones were among the worst offensive teams in their respective conferences, which helped the Panthers’ effort.
On Sunday, Pitt faced the best offensive team in the Big East, and the score reflected that. Xavier shot 47.6% from the floor and 33.3% from three, which included 7 of 14 marks from depth and a 52.8% overall shooting percentage in the first half. Xavier made just eight turnovers, assisted on 22 of 30 baskets made and scored 42 points in the paint.
Pete’s defense may have improved last week, but it hasn’t improved enough to stop Xavier’s offense.
The Panthers’ best chance—perhaps their only chance—was to win the arena match. Xavier’s offense wasn’t likely to be slowed down, but if Pitt can score at the rate he has when he’s been playing well this season, the Panthers can hold on to the Knights and possibly eventually beat them.
They needed to be firing on all cylinders, but they sure weren’t. Pitt shot 6 of 20 from three against Xavier – a performance that looked like what the Panthers have done against some of the better defensive teams they have faced this season (6 of 19 against Iowa State, 5 of 18 against Duke, 3 of 18 at Virginia Tech). They were 40% from inside the arc, making 21 of 50 attempts, but despite a total of 43 missed shots — and seven more free throws — Pitt grabbed just 10 offensive rebounds and scored 12 second chance points.
Individual performances were more of a concern than team output. Jamarious Burton scored 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Nellie Cummings had nine on 3-of-14 shooting. Blake Henson was the team’s leading scorer with 18 points. But Greg Elliott only attempted two of three-pointers and the Panthers never managed to bring the offense that carried them all season.
After two tumultuous battles in the Rocks, this was a game Pete had to win with offense, and the Panthers just couldn’t get enough of it.
When Federico injured his knee in the ACC tournament, that pushed freshman Guillermo Diaz Graham into a starting role. The freshman from Spain started all three of Pitt’s matches in the NCAA Tournament, and while it wasn’t all perfect, it’s hard to argue with his performance.
In Sunday’s loss to Xavier, Diaz-Graham scored 11 points—the third time this season he’s reached double figures—and grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots, stole one, and committed just one turnover.
This came on the heels of the Iowa State game, when he had nine points and rebounds, blocked three more shots, committed no turnovers and recorded another steal.
Finally, in three tournament games, Diaz-Graham scored a total of 23 points, pulled down 21 rebounds, blocked eight shots, made four steals, and committed only one turnover. That’s an average of 7.7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.
In the last two games, he’s averaged 10/8/3.
This is an impressive display from a freshman who, along with Federiko, had to fill the huge hole left by John Hugley’s mid-season departure. And while Diaz-Graham’s overall strength and intensity made him vulnerable to pressure, his unending will to fight and his ever-growing skill set made him more effective than most would have expected, especially considering some of the encounters he faced in NCAA tournament.