Pitt needs double overtime to defeat Eastern Michigan in Stallings' debut
Kevin Stallings' first game as Pitt's basketball coach caused more anxiety than he would have preferred, but he gladly accepted the outcome.
After the Panthers sweated out a 93-90 season-opening win in double-overtime over Eastern Michigan at Petersen Events Center, Stallings, who spent the past 17 seasons coaching Vanderbilt, coined an old expression from his golfing days.
“It's not an art contest,” he said. “It's a math contest, and we added up more than they did. We would have felt a (heck) of a lot different in here if that score was reversed.”
The 2K Classic game benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project drew a crowd of 6,411 that included former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, an Eastern Michigan alumnus, as Pitt let a 12-point lead slip away in the second half but survived mainly because of guard Jamel Artis and forward Michael Young, who finished with 27 and 26 points, respectively.
No need to be a math whiz. That's a lot of offense. Young also grabbed 10 rebounds, and Artis had nine.
“Their best two players continued to come up with key rebounds and key shots,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said.
Artis scored all but six of his points after halftime. Young had 15 points in the second half and overtime.
But Eastern Michigan stayed with the Panthers and surpassed them, twice taking a three-point lead in the first overtime. The Eagles answered with a dynamic duo of their own: guards Ray Lee (27 points) and Tim Bond (21), who often had clear paths to the basket.
“We knew they were talented off the dribble,” Stallings said. “We were a little more concerned about the big guy inside (6-foot-10 James Thompson IV), but as it turns out, he didn't really hurt us. It was the guards that hurt us.”
Artis said he and his teammates sometimes get so aggressive “we sometimes let guys drive.”
Opening against a mid-major team from the Mid-American Conference, especially one with experience and talent, is more challenging than many might believe, Stallings said.
“These games are hard,” he said “I call them out-of-body experiences.”
Stallings was not overjoyed to open the season against a team that plays a 2-3 zone for all 40 minutes (or in this case, 50 minutes). Although he said the Panthers “attacked their zone very well,” there were times his uneasiness could be fathomed. Fighting off collapsing defenders, Young committed seven turnovers. Forced to shoot over the zone, the Panthers made eight of 33 3-point attempts.
“Once I got it going, I would expect a team to try to double (team), try to reach,” Young said of the turnovers. “I got to handle the ball better, be strong with the ball, be more decisive with my decisions.”
The Panthers partly offset their errant 3-point shooting by making 35 of 45 free throw attempts. Eastern Michigan was 19 of 23. The only comment Murphy made on the officiating was observing that several “clean strips” of the ball were called fouls.
Artis, who was starting his first game at the point after switching from forward, made half of the team's threes (in 12 attempts). He shot 6 for 16 overall from the field, but he also took 12 foul shots, making 11. He had three assists and zero turnovers.
“It's the first game of the season,” Artis said. “I was very excited.”
“Jamel is a terrific zone offensive player,” Stallings said. “Terrific. And I knew that coming in, and that's his reputation and it's a fact. We tried to build a lot of what did around him and around Mike.”
The Panthers took a page from the Eagles' playbook during overtime, switching from their man-to-man to a zone. And it worked. Stallings kind of liked the irony.
“Finally, we went to a zone,” he said, “and of all things, they didn't like the zone very much.”