Jeff Capel wanted Pitt to punctuate its ACC regular-season finale by stopping its 13-game losing streak, and the first-year coach likened it to putting a period at the end of a paragraph.
For Jared Wilson-Frame, it was an exclamation point.
The Pitt senior got to walk off the floor at Petersen Events Center with his arms raised as a winner for the first time in a long time and for the last time of his college career after a 56-53 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon.
“I just feel like we finally completed a mission,” Wilson-Frame said. “We always talk about that at the beginning of the game, that we’ve got to finish games. Whether we’re in games, winning games, even have a chance to come back in a game, we have often dropped the ball in those moments. And it’s often a collective. It’s not an individual thing.
“We collectively overcame the thing that’s been bugging us for awhile, so it felt good to finally get that job done.”
Wilson-Frame came to Pitt two years ago with high hopes, as a junior-college transfer who had watched as a kid in Hartford, Conn., when the Panthers were one of the best programs in the Big East. Instead, he endured dwelling in the basement of the ACC amid a coaching change and the two longest losing streaks in school history.
Pitt lost its final 19 games last season, ending with losses to Notre Dame in the regular-season finale and in the ACC Tournament. That led to the firing of Kevin Stallings and the hiring of Jeff Capel.
The former Duke assistant claimed to be “brutally honest” in his assessment of Wilson-Frame’s game only to see the Panthers’ top returning scorer accept the admonishment and work to make changes to both his playing style and his physique.
“Jared, he’s a guy that believed right away when I got the job. When there was a lot of uncertainty in the program, he was certain in his beliefs in me, us, in the future and the direction,” Capel said. “I think he’s had a really good year. I mean a really good year. I think he’s been a more efficient player. I think he’s grown as a leader. I’ve said this before: I wish his whole experience, his two years here, would have been better. But I think he’s grown, and I think he’s made the best of it.”
Unfortunately, the 6-foot-5 swingman’s best basketball coincided with the start of Pitt’s losing streak. He went scoreless in 10 minutes in Pitt’s victory over then-No. 11 Florida State and his string of eight consecutive games in double-digit scoring started at Syracuse.
Not only did Wilson-Frame become Pitt’s only reliable outside shooting threat, he will go down as one of the top 3-point shooters in school history. Wilson-Frame entered the game ranking second in the ACC in 3-point field goals per game (2.86) and fifth in 3-point percentage (39.0) and holds the school record for 3s per game at 2.57.
After missing his first four shots, all from inside the arc, Wilson-Frame finally drained his first basket on a 3-pointer in front of the Oakland Zoo. Of his 17 shots from the field, he made four and all were treys.
“Well, for us, it’s important to see anybody make a shot because we struggle to shoot,” Capel said. “Jared’s our best shooter, so anytime he can get a good look, we feel good about it. We want him ready to shoot.
“The play that he made at the end of the shot clock was huge.”
Perhaps the biggest when Xavier Johnson found Wilson-Frame deep on the right wing as the shot clock ticked away. As Wilson-Frame’s momentum pulled him toward the Pitt bench, he launched a high-arcing shot that banked off the glass at the buzzer to give Pitt a 38-35 lead at 13 minutes, 54 seconds of the second half.
“I was hoping that I could get it up on the rim so we could get another possession,” Wilson-Frame said. “Once I saw it was going in, though, I just shrugged my shoulders. I’m used to making regular-form 3s. That was kind of a wild, once-in-a-million type of shot. It was fun.”
How huge was it? The Panthers never trailed again. They won by three.
“I did make one like that at Louisville, so it was something that I’d done before and I wasn’t surprised by it,” Wilson-Frame said, “but I was definitely in my head, telling myself that that’s a Senior Day thing to happen.”
But it wasn’t the best thing about Senior Day for Wilson-Frame and the Panthers. By beating Notre Dame, Pitt (13-18, 3-15 ACC) avoided a dubious distinction. A loss would have put them in position for the first back-to-back 20-loss seasons in school history, if you can imagine that.
Wilson-Frame claimed he wasn’t aware of that, focusing instead on being the leader of a team that starts three freshmen and a sophomore and helping change the culture of Pitt basketball. He pointed to the sellouts with the Oakland Zoo student section, to sellouts against ACC powers North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse as positive signs.
“That hasn’t happened in a while,” Wilson-Frame said. “It’s definitely a great feeling to just be able to step onto that court and have Pitt across your chest, see Pitt at half-court and look up into the stands. That’s what you used to see when you were growing up. It’s kind of nostalgic to be actually a part of that, in that jersey. This is just the beginning. I’m glad I got to be here for the start of it.”
Wilson-Frame won’t be here to see it to the end, but he got to put his punctuation on the program in his final game at the Pete with a win that deserved an exclamation point.