Missed free throws only part of Pitt's problem
Simple math suggests Pitt should have beaten Marquette had the Panthers fared better at the foul line, where they made only 13 of 26 shots in the 74-67 overtime defeat at Petersen Events Center.
“If we'd have made half of those (misses),” junior swingman Lamar Patterson said after the loss Saturday, “we'd have won this game.”
It's something Pitt needs to correct quickly or risk missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season after a 10-year run of tourney appearances. The Panthers (13-4, 1-3) play at Villanova (11-5, 2-1) on Wednesday.
Jamie Dixon, however, believes the equation is more complicated. The Pitt coach refuses to blame missed free throws alone for the Panthers' third loss in Big East play and second consecutive at home, citing rebounding and finishing plays inside as major concerns.
“Obviously we want to make our free throws. Obviously we want to go inside. And when you do, you want to get fouled and you want to get makes and you want to get points out of it,” Dixon said. “I thought we were battling that in the first half, especially early on when we got down. We seemed to be getting pretty good shots and opportunities, but we didn't get the makes from the free-throw line. Some of those were from some good shooters. Others weren't.”
Of the nine Panthers who went to the charity stripe — only the injured Tray Woodall (concussion) didn't — eight missed at least one attempt. This is what was alarming to Dixon: Pitt was outrebounded, 38-33. It was outscored, 28-18, in the paint. It got a combined 10 points from its frontcourt of Steven Adams (four), Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor (three each). Where Zanna was 1 for 9 from the field, Adams went without a shot attempt for the second time in four Big East contests.
And the trio went 2 for 6 on free throws.
“We want to get the ball inside and finish,” Dixon said. “If you don't make free throws and you don't make layups, you're not going to get the success you want out of it. We got opportunities, but we didn't finish at the rate we wanted. And you've got to make free throws, too. That's part of it.”
That's the part the Panthers can't explain. They were shooting 68.4 percent from the free-throw line entering the game, but this is their second Big East loss in which free-throw shooting proved costly. They made 15 of 25 in a 70-61 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 31.
“I'm not really sure,” Patterson said, when asked to pinpoint the problem. “I can't say one main thing. It's not like we don't work on it.”
Perhaps the biggest problem is that, save the 28-point victory at Georgetown, the Panthers have failed to win games in which they were within single digits in the final minute. Missed free throws are only part of that problem, although one that has proved pivotal.
“We've lost three close games,” Dixon said. “I'm concerned about any game we've lost. You can't lose home games. You can't lose any games. We've had opportunities. The rebounding thing is the thing that stands out to me because that's been the constant. There's other things we need to improve on. We need to grow up quickly and figure out how to get it done.”