Pitt gets much-needed win against Maryland Eastern Shore
Jeff Capel won’t point to a 78-43 victory against Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday as one of the crowning achievements of his first season as Pitt’s coach.
The Hawks (1-10) offered almost no resistance, coming into Petersen Events Center only 41 hours after losing at Duquesne, 72-57.
But it was a desperately needed victory after Pitt (8-3) had lost three of its previous four games. Plus, Pitt now has as many victories as it recorded last season.
That’s a nice piece of trivia, but what really matters is how Pitt goes forward. And Capel saw encouraging signs of progress, especially from senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame.
He recorded his second career double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds), but his work off the bench in the first half set the tone for the game and, Capel hopes, for the rest of the season.
Wilson-Frame had eight points, nine rebounds, three assists and no turnovers in 15 minutes before halftime.
“I thought the least impressive was the eight points,” Capel said. “His rebounding, his assists, his play-making, but more than anything his voice. He had an energy out there.”
Wilson-Frame said: “I’m an energy guy, and I play with high energy. When I do that, that’s something that’s very beneficial for our team and very beneficial for myself.”
He continued his near-flawless play in the second half, finishing with no turnovers in 25 minutes.
“Even in the second half, he could have hunted points, but he continued to make the right play,” Capel said. “That’s something we need everyone on our team to do.”
Still less than a year removed from its winless streak in the ACC, Pitt has more work to do that goes beyond a relatively meaningless victory against a weak opponent.
“We’re trying to build those habits where they become second nature to us,” Capel said. “It’s not right now. We’ve improved, but it’s not where we want it to be, where it will be as we continue to work.
“As all of us who are adults know, a habit is hard to break. So, if you can create really good habits, winning habits, that’s infectious in your program.”
Capel was pleased with several parts of his team’s effort, especially coming at the end of a week where practice was limited by final exams. They included:
• A season-high 51 rebounds, 22 more than the Hawks.
• Recording as many assists as turnovers (15) after that ratio was negative-25 over the previous four games.
• Playing solid defense again, holding the opponent to 30.9 percent (17 of 55). Pitt came into the game third in the ACC in that category and came out at 37.5 percent. Maryland Eastern Shore’s 43 points were the fewest allowed by Pitt since the second game of the 2015-16 season.
• Getting a game-high 12 points from freshman guard Xavier Johnson, who has scored at least 10 in every game of his college career. Capel said Johnson didn’t practice until Friday while nursing an injury. “He’s still not 100 percent,” the coach said.
But there were two moments in the second half where Capel admitted he was “furious.”
The first occurred after center Terrell Brown blocked a shot.
“We didn’t go after it,” Capel said. “They went after it. They got it, and we fouled at the end of the shot clock and they got two free throws.”
The second event happened after a missed shot where Pitt allowed the ball to bounce out of bounds.
“We have to pursue those rebounds,” Capel said, noting a similar play might have led to the loss to Niagara on Dec. 3. “That’s a habit we don’t have where we go after the ball all the time.”
Capel said 6-foot-9 reserve center Peace Ilgomah’s decision to leave the team and transfer doesn’t heighten the importance of rebounding.
“You hate to see anyone leave, and you wish him well,” Capel said, “but rebounding is huge for us, period. Just because we’re down a man doesn’t mean that it becomes even more (important).
“All of us have to do it. We have to get better. That’s a habit that’s not there.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.