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Pitt

Pitt looks for energy, execution in New York

| Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, 6:24 p.m.
Pitt's Jamel Aritis grabs a rebound over Gardner-Webb's Liam O'Reilly in the first half Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jamel Aritis grabs a rebound over Gardner-Webb's Liam O'Reilly in the first half Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Justice Kithcart blocks the shot of Gardner-Webb's David Efianayi in the second half Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Justice Kithcart blocks the shot of Gardner-Webb's David Efianayi in the second half Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 at Petersen Events Center.

NEW YORK – Kevin Stallings gathered his team Monday evening in the home locker room and asked for feedback after routing Gardner-Webb: Was he too tough? Had the new Pitt basketball coach been more negative than positive in practices?

Stallings was perplexed by the lacking defensive energy, execution (19 turnovers) and attention to detail in his second game leading Pitt.

“(Senior guard) Chris Jones spoke up and said ‘It's not even close,' ” said Stallings in regard to his being far more positive than negative. “I can see if you ragtag them in practice, (they) can get a little beat down. But that is not what's going on.”

After meeting with his players, Stallings wondered aloud at his post-game news conference if there has been too much talk of increased offensive tempo, too much talk of offense in general. He also suspected his team was not as focused as he desired on a night the arena was half-filled for a mid-major opponent.

Stallings' message was clear. He said his players must focus on achieving a standard of play and execution regardless of opponent, regardless of energy level in the arena. Pitt will attempt to bounce back with a more inspired effort Thursday and Friday in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.

The environment should energize any college basketball player.

At the storied arena in New York — where Stallings has never coached — the Panthers (2-0) will face SMU (2-0) on Thursday. The Mustangs finished ranked 24th in the country last season, though the team was ineligible for postseason play. Pitt will then meet a brand-name program in Michigan or Marquette on Friday.

“What you don't know when you're young, or what you don't understand, is that you're incapable of turning it on and off,” Stalling said. “If you allow it to turn off, you can't say ‘Oh, OK, I'm going to turn it back on now.' Maybe the greatest of the great ones can do that. I've never known a college player who could do that.

“If you're only going to get excited to play teams that have a brand name or whatever then ultimately you are only going to beat the teams you're more talented than because you're not going to be an every-day program. … You are not going to have the type of season you want to have.”

Stallings wants the switch flipped to “on” Thursday and to be kept there.

SMU should have the Panthers' attention.

SMU ranked No. 49 overall in Ken Pomeroy's preseason rankings. While SMU lost key players Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy, the Mustangs added forward Semi Ojeleye, a Duke transfer who is averaging 22 points this season. SMU defeated common opponent, Gardner-Webb, 72-44 on Nov. 11.

“Do I anticipate we'll have a lot more energy and emotion Thursday night? Sure I do,” Stallings said. “But what if it's not in Madison Square Garden against a Michigan or Marquette? I'm concerned about the entire picture not just the next window in the picture.”

Despite a struggle in the season-opening win against Eastern Michigan, Pitt senior Sheldon Jeter said Stallings was more pleased with the opening effort.

“(After) Friday's game he was happy, well, he was cheerful because we've been labeled as a team that, when we face adversity, we kind of just back away, so he liked that we were playing the way we are supposed to,” Jeter said. “(Monday), he was a little disappointed. He felt that there was a lack of energy, and there was. We'll fix that.”

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