Pitt upsets No. 17 Florida State behind Jeter's big day
To truly understand what happened Saturday at Petersen Events Center in Pitt's 80-66 victory against No. 17 Florida State, coach Kevin Stallings combed through the devastation of the previous game.
He said two days of practice after the loss to Virginia Tech weren't “particularly awesome.”
The shoot-around prior to the game Saturday was equally uninspiring.
“I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if we got hammered today because our energy level has been way low the past couple days,” Stallings said.
Then, to complete the trifecta of negativity, the shorts on the bright blue and gold retro uniforms (now 3-0, counting football and basketball) were too short, according to senior forward Sheldon Jeter.
“We really went retro,” he said.
The tight squeeze didn't matter to Jeter, who hit 12 of 14 shots, scored 29 points (more than 21 above his average) and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
Even more impressive, Jeter, 6-foot-8, did it against a team with 7-1 center Michael Ojo and possible NBA lottery pick 6-10 Jonathan Isaac in the Florida State starting lineup.
“Sheldon was unbelievable,” Stallings said. “That's as good of a performance as we had all year.”
In this season of frustration, head-scratching and lapses in energy, Pitt (15-12, 4-10) beat a quality opponent for the third time, throwing Florida State (21-6, 9-5) on a pile of victims with No. 14 Virginia and No. 23 Maryland.
“When we concentrate and focus and play with energy and urgency for 40 minutes,” Stallings said, “we're capable of being a pretty good basketball team.”
Stallings also got 40 minutes, seven points, seven rebounds and only one turnover from substitutes Justice Kithcart, Corey Manigault, Rozelle Nix and Jonathan Milligan. That was after playing his starters every minute in the second half of the Virginia Tech game.
The key to the game was Stallings devising a game plan to free Jeter and others against Florida State's bigger, slower front line. Jamel Artis (16), Michael Young (11) and Cam Johnson (10) also scored in double figures, giving some credibility to Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams' assertion Stallings belongs among the top five offensive coaches in the nation.
Pitt also committed only eight turnovers — only two by its starting guards — after Florida State entered the game leading the ACC by forcing 15 per game.
Defensively, Pitt held Seminoles guard Dwayne Bacon, who had a streak of 35 consecutive games scoring in double digits, to zero points.
Stallings sounded almost embarrassed by that one.
“Maybe we did some things early,” he said. “But as the day wore one, it just didn't feel like it was his day. We don't throw shutouts very often. So, I can't think that that's all us.”
Jeter laughed while offering this simple explanation: “We played defense. We didn't have a special game plan to defend them, but we fought for 40 minutes.”
Especially when Florida State cut a Pitt lead that grew as large as 15 points to two with 6:19 left. At that point, Chris Jones hit a 2-pointer, Jeter buried one of his four 3-pointers and Pitt was 7 of 8 from the foul line (on the way to 18 of 22).
The victory, Pitt's third in the past four games, freed up talk among the players of rallying for an NCAA Tournament bid in the final three weeks of the season.
“We still believe in us,” Jeter said. “It doesn't matter who doesn't. We believe we can still make it.
“We haven't given up hope. We haven't (said), ‘All right, we'll go to the NIT.' We're still playing to get in the tournament.”