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Kevin Gorman

Kevin Gorman: Pitt's losing streak tests fans' patience

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, 9:51 p.m.

Pitt picked the perfect opponent in Syracuse to wear its white retro uniforms, a throwback to their heyday as beasts of the Big East back in the 1980s.

The Panthers paid tribute to their all-time greats by wearing shooting shirts with their names and numbers.

That only made Pitt fans long for the days when the Panthers were winning the conference championship.

Now, they can't even win a conference game.

You have to hope that Pitt's 60-55 loss to Syracuse on Saturday at Petersen Events Center was rock bottom as the Panthers set a school record by losing their ninth consecutive conference game.

If not, this is starting to look like a bottomless pit, one that's going to require something else Pitt fans are losing: patience.

Pitt second-year coach Kevin Stallings isn't expecting any sympathy from a frustrated fan base, amid rumblings that boosters are looking into buying out the remaining four years of his six-year contract.

“I don't think that ‘patience' generally describes very many fan bases,” Stallings said. “It's probably unrealistic for me to hope or think that people are going to be patient or anything like that.”

No, Pitt needs a win. The Panthers blew opportunities for one by losing leads and home games this week to N.C. State and Syracuse.

But this is a rebuilding season, one that had little hope after top returning scorer Cameron Johnson transferred to North Carolina and even less after leading scorer and rebounder Ryan Luther was lost to a season-ending foot injury.

Of Pitt's nine newcomers, seven are freshmen. As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, you can't win in the ACC unless they get older quicker. Or better quicker.

The losing is wearing on these Panthers, as much as their fans.

So, Pitt needs to go retro.

The Panthers are in desperate need of an impact player, the type that Charles Smith provided for the program in the mid-1980s.

It's imperative to remember that Pitt was 6-10 in the Big East the two seasons before the arrival of Smith, a two-time All-American and the school's all-time leading scorer. The Panthers tied for the Big East title in '87 and won it outright in '88.

“That was the reason why I came: because they were at the bottom of the Big East, and I wanted to help the program grow,” Smith said.

“It's tough that they're losing — and I know the fans struggle with that — but they're going to have to deal with that for a little while. It's just a rebuilding program. … It's a little tough to watch.”

Stallings knows he doesn't have a Smith, let alone an All-ACC player, but pointed out the positives against the Orange: Junior Jared Wilson-Frame had 18 points and 13 rebounds, freshman point guard Marcus Carr added 16 points and 12 assists and freshman forward Terrell Brown blocked six shots.

Stallings is optimistic that Pitt will improve next season with the addition of veterans Luther and Malik Ellison, a St. John's transfer, but knows the Panthers need a player to build the program around.

“One of those guys can change everything,” Stallings said. “To get into the upper echelon of this league, you need players like Charles and Jerome (Lane). I don't know if we've got Charles Smith on our team right now, but we can develop some guys that can be really good players and, hopefully, we can pick off a guy like that somewhere along the way.”

Will Stallings be here for it?

If Pitt fires him, the basketball program starts all over again. If it doesn't, more losing could follow.

Pitt needs to find a way to win and Stallings an impact player before Panthers fans run out of patience and he runs out of time.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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