Pitt's losing streak reaches 7 games with loss to N.C. State
An array of emotions flew around Petersen Events Center on Saturday before, during and after Pitt’s 79-76 loss to N.C. State.
Senior Jared Wilson-Frame remained confident but also angry while his team’s losing streak reached seven games.
Coach Jeff Capel lamented his team’s “very, very, very small margin for error” after a “very, very tough loss.”
He was, at first, shocked freshman Au’Diese Toney played 30 minutes and had seven rebounds and six points after missing practice all week with an illness.
He was proud, too, that the Panthers fought back from a 14-point deficit early in the second half to take a one-point lead less than five minutes later.
But in the end, he was dissatisfied just like everyone else in his locker room and among most of the crowd of 8,950 after Pitt dropped to 12-12 overall, 2-9 in the ACC.
Pitt has lost its past two games by almost identical scores to drop into a tie for last place with Miami. The score Tuesday at Wake Forest was 78-76 in overtime.
“I think we are (making progress),” Capel said, “but at the same time we want to win. We had two opportunities to win, and we came up short. I don’t want us to be satisfied with just that.”
Wilson-Frame, the senior with the longest tenure on the team (two years), said he was confident Pitt would win as late as Sidy N’Dir’s off-target 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“I feel just as confident as I did the first day when we all got together when school started,” he said. “Every huddle, every timeout we’re in, we thought we were going to win that game. I thought (N’Dir’s shot) was going in.
In recent weeks, Wilson-Frame has been, along with Xavier Johnson, the most consistent scorer on the team. He has connected on multiple 3-point attempts (a total of 28) in the past seven games. Saturday, he was one of five Pitt players scoring in double digits (16 points, 4 of 5 from beyond the arc). Johnson finished with 17, Terrell Brown and N’Dir with 12 and Trey McGowens with 11.
Pitt played without junior Malik Ellison, who had averaged 9.5 rebounds in the past two games. Capel said he is out with an undisclosed injury and didn’t know if he would play Tuesday at Boston College.
Ellison could have made a difference. Pitt outrebounded N.C. State, 37-36, but that was small consolation after the Wolfpack grabbed 20 missed shots off their offensive glass and scored 13 second-chance points.
“(Rebounding)’s something we hold ourselves accountable for,” Wilson-Frame said, “being there for your brother. We all have to fight.”
Also, staying focused for 40 minutes has been a problem most of the season.
“When guys are in those intense, tight-game moments, especially for guys who might not have been doing this for four years, even myself,” Wilson-Frame said, “you can get little mental lapses, might not go as hard and take a play off.
“You have to realize at this level, there isn’t a play off. There isn’t even a second off. The thing we are getting angry about is we are putting ourselves in that situation in the first place.”
The Panthers didn’t play poorly on offense, but that small margin of error caught up to them. Pitt shot 47.3 percent from the field — its best mark in the past nine games — but its last field goal was a layup by Wilson-Frame that tied the score 72-72 with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game.
“Our focus wasn’t completely 100 percent on finishing,” Capel said. “It was trying to draw contact or thinking there was going to be contact and bracing for contact.
“A few times there wasn’t any contact. So we have to focus on just the shot and not on anything else. A couple times we didn’t get the shot where we wanted to get it to, where the shot selection wasn’t where we wanted.”
Defensive lapses, especially beyond the 3-point arc, also hurt. N.C. State hit 14 of 27 3-point attempts after making only seven in a 113-96 loss at North Carolina last week. Inside the arc, Pitt played good defense, and N.C. State missed 25 of 37.
“Some of them were contested,” Capel said. “Some of them we didn’t get to guys. I thought at times we got a little bit tired in our zone, didn’t rotate as quickly as we needed to. Some of them they just made.”
What follows is another in a long series of challenges for the Panthers.
“We’re on the ropes a little bit right now,” Capel said. “We have to fight our way off of it, and we have to do it together.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.