Pitt rides revamped defense past Maryland in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Pitt has offensive firepower.
What the Panthers sought entering XFinity Center on Tuesday — its first true road test of the season — was improved defensive effort and efficiency.
While Pitt's offensive stars contributed as usual, Baltimore native Jamel Artis and Michael Young combined for 47 points, it was a new-look defense that led the Panthers to a 73-59 win at Maryland.
Using a variety of defensive looks, including more zone defense — and improved intensity — Pitt (6-1) limited Maryland to 34 percent shooting and scored 16 points off turnovers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game.
When Pitt's Chris Jones crashed to the floor in pursuit of a loose ball and scooped it up with less than three minutes to play, he was greeted at the bench by teammates and coaches standing and emphatically applauding his effort. Maryland (7-1) had had a chance to cut the Pitt lead to 5 on the possession.
Jones' dive led to two Young free throws to give Pitt a 65-55 lead with two minutes to play. Young finished with a game-best 25 points.
“You believe in yourself. You believe in what you want you accomplish,” Young said. “But when you win a game like this, first game on the road. … I think it's going to do a lot for our team.”
It was defense that fueled much of Pitt's offense.
“I thought we played about as well in the first half as we've played on both ends,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “In the second half, I thought we got into too much one-on-one offensively … but on defense I thought we continued to fight and battle. We did the things we came to do.”
After a Maryland turnover, an Artis 3 gave Pitt a 32-20 lead with 5:12 to play in the first half. Artis then stole a pass and broke away for a dunk, one of 12 fast-break points for the Panthers. Artis finished with 22 points.
“(Artis) was spectacular,” Stallings said.
Artis had 18 friends and family members in attendance. He was not offered a scholarship by Maryland. He played in the building only once prior, in a high school tournament.
“I played with a chip on my shoulder,” he said.
Said Young – the ACC's leading scorer (23.5 ppg) – of the league's second-leading scorer, Artis (19.7 ppg): “He was the bus driver tonight. I was the bus rider.”
Two possessions later, Cameron Johnson, emerging as a third scoring option, hit a 3 to give Pitt a 17-point lead with 3:50 to play in the first half.
Johnson screamed out “Let's go,” into a quieted XFinity Center.
Tuesday marked the type of all-around effort Pitt needs to play meaningful basketball in March, and Stallings noted before Tuesday's game that a win in the ACC-Big Ten challenge is the type of resume material that will gain the attention of the NCAA selection committee. As of Monday, Pitt was ranked 55th in the country in Ken Pomeroy's overall ratings, and Maryland 56th.
“Back when (Maryland coach) Mark (Turgeon) and I were assistants on Roy Williams' staff at Kansas, (Williams) used to say the definition of ‘fun' there was a picture of winning on the road,” Stallings said. “Hopefully, it's one of those that shows up real well later in the year.”
Pitt entered Tuesday as an unbalanced team.
The Panthers entered with Pomeroy's 26th-rated offense in the country but the nation's 106th-rated defense. Pitt entered ranked 245th in the country in scoring defense (75.7 points per game).
Stallings had seen enough poor defensive play and physical limitations that he told his coaches two weeks ago he wanted to begin playing more zone defense.
And Pitt showcased more zone Tuesday, which in part limited to Maryland star Melo Trimble — who entered averaging 21.1 points per game — to 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“We have to play a blend of defense,” Stallings said. “(The zone) was doing what it we needed it do. Melo wasn't on top of our rim all night. He wasn't standing at the foul line all night (four free-throw attempts).”
Maryland was the ideal team to play zone against as it continued to struggle from outside (13th in the Big Ten in shooting and 3-point percentage) the zone limited Trimble's ability to get into the paint.
“They are a big team so they play the 3-2 zone really well,” Trimble said. “They practice it as you can tell. ... Their zone was really good tonight.”