Young scores 30 as Pitt snaps long losing streak
BOSTON — Pitt coach Kevin Stallings didn't care who his team had next after its eight-game losing streak. He just cared about getting a win, no matter how the Panthers got it.
Close losses to North Carolina and Duke last week reinforced to his squad what it was capable of doing. But it had to go out and finish the job.
“It wouldn't have mattered if we were playing the Golden State Warriors,” Stallings said. “We needed a win.”
Luckily for his Panthers, they didn't have to beat the best team in the NBA, just a fellow ACC cellar dweller.
Michael Young matched a season-high with 30 points, and Sheldon Jeter added 17 as Pitt ended its losing streak with an 83-72 victory over Boston College Wednesday at Conte Forum. It was the Panthers' first win since Jan. 4 against Virginia.
With the victory, Pitt (13-11, 2-9 ACC) climbed out of last place in the league and pushed the Eagles (9-16, 2-10 ACC) to the bottom.
“When you go on a skid like we've been on, you just need a win,” Stallings said. “It doesn't matter who it's against. You don't say to yourself, ‘Well we better get these guys because if we don't.' ... You just play them as they come and keep trying to knock the door down.”
For a moment, it looked like the Panthers' nightmares were going to continue. On the first play of the game, leading scorer Jamel Artis drove hard to the basket and appeared to land awkwardly and hurt his right ankle.
Luckily for Pitt, Artis walked under his own power back to the bench and returned to the game at the 12 minute, 25 second mark of the first half, but he wasn't the same. But the rest of the Panthers took it upon themselves to pick up the slack.
“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘OK, it's time to step up,' ” Jeter said.
They did just that. Pitt trailed by nine at one point in the first half, but behind the trio of Young, Justice Kithcart and Chris Jones, the Panthers pulled back with a 12-2 run.
Kithcart's play was critical, Stallings said. The freshman, who was mired in a recent shooting slump, stepped in for Artis and came up with some big shots. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half, the last of which brought the Panthers back to 29-25.
Young then followed with a layup before Jones powered to the hoop for a three-point play that gave Pitt the lead.
The score was tied 31-31 at halftime, but the Panthers used that momentum to spring them out of the locker room. Strong defense turned to offense, and they went on a 9-2 run, capped by a behind-the-back pass from Cameron Johnson to Jeter, who finished with a dunk to give Pitt a 40-33 lead.
Jeter scored one point in the first half, but his play alongside Young's was the difference down the stretch. Stallings challenged his senior at halftime.
“I already knew I was playing bad, so when he said what he said, me being mature and able to take criticism well, I was just like, ‘I'm going to go out here and pick up my effort, pick up my energy,' ” Jeter said.
Pitt didn't look back as it opened up a lead as large as 14 on a Young 3-pointer with 12:39 left. The Eagles made it a six-point game with 3:59 to go. But the Panthers responded with a pair of baskets from Johnson and Young to effectively put the game away.
Jerome Robinson led BC with 22 points.
Pitt was relieved to finally get a win, and with the losing skid behind them, the Panthers think they can make some noise down the stretch.
“It feels great. It really does,” Jeter said. “We just gotta continue this now, continue to play like this every time. I think we'll be able to turn this season around.”
Young agreed and even took it one step further.
“I feel like we're an NCAA Tournament team with the talent, with the guys we have on this team and how well we mesh,” Young said. “We feel like we can win out as long as we keep getting better and keep fighting the way we've been fighting these last few games. We still have some tough games, but in this league you're going to have to win some tough games.”
Stephen Hewitt is a freelance writer.