Loss to Syracuse part of Pitt’s growing-up phase
Growing pains reached up and stung Pitt on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
Although Pitt trailed by only one point early in the second half, Syracuse led by 20 at one point before finally winning, 74-63.
The Panthers looked befuddled in the face of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and ended up with 17 turnovers, tied for the most since committing 24 against West Virginia on Dec. 8. Pitt also turned the ball over 17 times Jan. 12 at N.C. State.
“Their zone took us out of any sort of rhythm,” coach Jeff Capel said. “We could never get into a rhythm offensively.”
Here are three observations (not all negative) from the first five ACC games with No. 1 Duke coming to town Tuesday:
1. No happy trails
Pitt’s losing streak in away games is at 17 games, with three of the next four games away from Petersen Events Center. The Panthers haven’t won on an opponent’s floor since Feb. 8, 2017, an 83-72 victory at Boston College.
It’s part of the growing up phase Capel hoped would have passed by now.
In two ACC road games, Pitt is shooting 39.1 percent (47 of 120) with 34 turnovers. In three ACC home games, the shooting is only marginally better (39.6 percent, 67 of 169), but the turnover rate is down from 17 per outing to 13.
2. No trespassing zone
Pitt (12-6, 2-3) is at its best when Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens can showcase their one-on-one skills against man-to-man defense.
The zone clogs up the lane those two freshmen love to attack and allows two-on-one and three-on-one drives that often don’t end well.
The way to beat the zone is to race down court faster than the defense. But how can that happen when the other team is getting offensive rebounds? Before Pitt held Syracuse to nine (a sign of improvement), ACC opponents were averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game.
Next up is a visit from No. 1 Duke and its man-child freshman, Zion Williamson, who at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds, can take over a game. He is 13th in the nation (second in the ACC) with 3.6 offensive rebounds per game.
The next time Pitt faces a zone defense for 40 minutes, the Panthers need to loosen the noose around their neck by hitting some 3s. Jared Wilson-Frame and Johnson were a combined 8 of 18 from beyond the arc against Syracuse. Another good sign.
3. A little punch in reserve
Before the Syracuse game, Wilson-Frame had been slumping, and his minutes were reduced. But he came off the bench to lead the team with 19 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
Backup point guard Sidy N’Dir, aside from missing all four of his 3-point attempts against the Orange, has been useful since returning from a leg injury. In two games and 21 minutes, he has seven points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal.
The better he plays, the more comfortable Capel will feel resting Johnson and McGowens. Johnson played all 40 minutes at Syracuse.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .