Trio of freshmen rally Pitt past Towson
Almost everything went wrong for Pitt on Friday night at Petersen Events Center. Except what mattered most: the final score.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings counted his blessings after the 63-59 victory against Towson, the last of 13 nonconference games this season.
"We were very fortunate to win," he said.
But he also counted down the reasons why it would appear — if you didn't know the truth — Pitt had lost.
"We didn't make our free throws (12 of 21)," he said. "We didn't make 3s (1 of 16 in the first half). We turned the ball over 21 times.
"There are so many things you can look at why we should have lost. We won because we fought hard. As a coach, I would take that every time. That's a good as it gets."
What stands out is how hard Pitt played after it fell behind by nine points at three separate junctures. Two in the first half were followed by two 8-2 runs. Then, with 6 minutes, 10 seconds left in the game, Towson (10-3 and getting votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll three weeks in a row) led by nine again, 53-44. From there, Pitt (8-5) outscored Towson, 19-6, in the final 5:43 getting 16 of those points from freshmen Parker Stewart and Khameron Davis (five each) and Terrell Brown and Marcus Carr (three each).
After clean looks from beyond the 3-point arc went awry in the first half, Stewart, Davis and Carr hit big 3-pointers in the game's waning minutes with the outcome at stake. Carr's tied it at 59-59 with 2:18 left.
At one point, Stallings looked into his huddle during a timeout and saw five freshmen looking back at him.
"I chuckled to myself," he said. "It didn't occur to me we had five freshmen in the game. I said, 'OK, what can I do to change this?' "
As it turned out, he didn't need to change a thing. But senior Jonathan Milligan made the tie-breaking shot, taking a pass from Carr — one of his six assists — with 52 seconds left, sending most in a crowd of 3,126 into a frenzy.
Milligan said the genesis of the play occurred back at the 16-minute mark of the second half.
"I remember saying in the huddle, 'We have to cut (to the basket) for each other,' " he said. "As soon as Marcus took off, I said I need to be available for him. So I cut in there. He found me. He made a good play, and I finished it for him."
After Towson's Zane Martin missed a contested layup, Pitt committed its 21st turnover when Carr threw the ball away on an inbounds pass, his seventh of the game.
When Martin, who led all scorers with 20 points, missed a 3 from the corner, Pitt finally was on its way to its seventh victory in the past eight games.
Pitt dominated the boards, outrebounding Towson, 48-34, a remarkable feat when considering senior Ryan Luther (foot) missed his third consecutive game (all Pitt victories). Jared Wilson-Frame had nine and Carr eight.
After the game, Milligan was poring over the stat sheet and was asked what jumped off the page.
"I was looking at these rebounds," he said. "That's what saved us a lot of the time. We held them to one shot for most of the game. That took us a long way."
Stallings shook up his starting lineup a bit, giving freshman center Peace Ilegomah his first start. He responded with three blocks, but Terrell Brown came off the bench to score 12 points — second only to Stewart's 13 — with seven rebounds.
Stallings was pleased that his front court of Brown, Ilegomah, Kene Chukwuka and Shamiel Stevenson recovered well after a bad second half against Delaware State earlier in the week.
Still, he's hoping Luther can return by next Saturday when Pitt opens ACC play against Miami.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I hope what I get for Christmas is Ryan Luther back."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.