Guards Jonathan Milligan, Parker Stewart spark Pitt's win against Lehigh
Pitt's 80-68 victory Saturday against Lehigh at Petersen Events Center won't be remembered as a hallmark moment.
But it was a lesson in loyalty and trust, and it said something for what coach Kevin Stallings and his players think of two guards at opposite ends of their careers — senior Jonathan Milligan and freshman Parker Stewart.
Neither was the leading scorer — senior forward Ryan Luther did that for the first time in nearly two years with 18 points — but Pitt couldn't have improved to 2-4 without those two guards.
Milligan did many things well, scoring a career-high 16 while hitting five of nine from the field and six of six from the free-throw line. He added three assists with only one turnover. Luther had 10 rebounds and three steals for his third double-double of the season.
“Both of our two seniors were good today, both of them on both ends,” Stallings said.
Milligan also put the victory in its proper perspective. Lehigh (3-3) of the Patriot League was on the West Coast on Wednesday, losing to No. 10 USC, 88-63.
“It's a step in the right direction,” he said. “We're not putting too much energy into (celebrating it). We appreciate wins. On to the next one.”
Milligan is one of two scholarship players who returned to the team this season, joining Luther as seniors trying to help prop up the program. Milligan has played 131 minutes in six games after totaling 227 last year.
“Nothing was promised to me,” Milligan said. “Coach told us like anybody else, I had to earn what I got.”
He said he never considered leaving.
“I didn't want to pack up and leave and leave when things got hard,” he said. “That's not me. I decided to stay, and I got a great group of guys around me, guys like Parker who can go off at any time.”
For Stewart, that happened in the second half when he hit four 3-point shots in a span of 6 minutes, 44 seconds.
Stallings said Stewart has the freedom to shoot the long-range shots.
“Not only does he need to shoot them, he needs to make them,” he said.
Stewart, who didn't start, hit four of seven from beyond the 3-point arc after starting the season 3 of 17. Stewart said he tried not to stress during his slump.
“Sometimes, it's in your head, but I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “Just keep shooting the ball like I've been shooting it my whole life. After I hit the first one, I said, ‘OK, I'm all right now.' ”
He said his teammates kept encouraging him.
“Even when I didn't hit shots, they would always say, ‘Keep shooting.' The point guards kept passing me the ball. They continued to believe in me.”
Stallings liked how his team shot in the second half (15 of 25, 60 percent), but he wasn't as pleased with the defense. Lehigh never led in the second half, but was 14 of 28 (50 percent).
He said the second half for both teams was like, “I'll let you shoot if you let me shoot. Neither team could stop the other one.”
Despite the defensive lapses, Pitt managed some crucial stops after Lehigh cut the lead to four with 3:23 left. Freshman Khameron Davis came off the bench for two big rebounds in those final minutes.
“There were things that concerned me about this game defensively,” Stallings said. “Every game presents new lessons for us.”