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Pitt stumbles in second half, loses to Georgia Tech

| Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, 11:30 p.m.

ATLANTA — Michael Young warmed up to score 13 of his 16 points in the second half Tuesday night, but Pitt fell 61-52 at Georgia Tech. The Panthers were undone by turnovers and their inability to slow the Yellow Jackets in the paint.

Junior center Ben Lammers scored 14 of his 20 points after halftime for Georgia Tech, and the Jackets (17-13, 8-9 ACC) scored on their final seven possessions to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive by outscoring Pitt, 32-14, from close range.

Pitt (15-15, 4-13) had an edge from afar, making seven 3-pointers to GT's three. But the Yellow Jackets bludgeoned the visitors in the paint to overcome a 28-25 halftime deficit.

Cameron Johnson and Jamel Artis added 13 and 12 points, respectively, in Pitt's third straight loss, and the Panthers went scoreless over the final 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

“We had some good looks, and we've struggled to make them late in the game,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said.

Georgia Tech built a 40-33 lead early in the second half when the Panthers turned the ball over on five of their first 10 possessions. Pitt rallied with back-to-back 3-pointers by Johnson and Young and led 47-46 after a three-point play by Artis with 5:24 left in the game.

The Yellow Jackets took the lead right back — and for good — on a layup by senior forward Quinton Stephens. Lammers followed that moments later with a layup, and freshman Josh Okogie followed with the drive down the right side of the lane for an and-one.

With a 54-50 lead and 3:35 remaining, Georgia Tech slowed the pace and secured the win when Lammers dunked off a bounce pass from guard Josh Heath for a 58-52 lead.

Georgia Tech entered the game leading the conference in slew of defensive categories and put the clamps on Pitt down the stretch. The Panthers shot 37.7 percent, making 20 of 53 shots.

“We played good defense, and that's been our identity all year long,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.

The Panthers didn't shoot the ball well in the first half, making 11 of 30 shots, but matched against the ACC's second-worst shooting team, that wasn't critical. Georgia Tech made only 10 of 30 and two fewer 3-point shots. Young missed five of his six attempts.

Pitt moved ahead on Sheldon Jeter's 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:14 left in the half and held a 22-20 lead to intermission. The margin expanded to 28-22, but the Panthers were scoreless over the final 3:14.

Still, they led 28-25 heading into halftime.

The most notable numbers were Lammers'. The ACC's third-leading rebounder and top shot blocker had one board and no blocks in the first 20 minutes. Stephens, the league's seventh-leading rebounder, had none as Pitt edged the Jackets, 20-19, on the boards.

Guard Chris Jones led the way with six rebounds in that time, one short of his career high for a game.

Pitt succeeded largely by jamming the paint and daring the ACC's worst 3-point shooting team to fire from deep.

Georgia Tech, which entered the game having made just 71 3-pointers in conference action — 39 fewer than any other team — was 2 of 9 from three in the first half.

Pitt fell on the boards, 36-34. Stephens grabbed six in the second half for Tech, and Okogie, who scored 14 points, added seven.

With his team railing 59-52 in the final minute, Jeter gathered the rebound when Okogie missed a free throw, and Pitt pushed for a last gasp.

Artis plowed over Okogie, though, for an offensive foul. Okogie dunked shortly afterward to end it.

“We call a play and come down and charge before we give the play a chance,” Stallings said. “There are times when we lack coachability. We've got some guys trying really hard, but we need to do a better job of doing what we're told.

“It's a lot of things. It's stay in stance on defense. It's stay between your man and the goal, see the ball ... there's lot of things. I get it. I get where we're at. I get where we're at in the season. It's kind of a pride thing, so I just had hoped that we would play a little better.”

Matt Winkeljohn is a freelance writer.

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