Pitt’s losing streak can be tied to the recent past
Pitt’s 10-game losing streak can be tied to many factors. Sometimes, new ones pop up unexpectedly, such as the unbelievably poor foul shooting Wednesday night in the 73-65 loss at Georgia Tech.
But maybe it has a much deeper origin, one that goes back to the past Pitt administration when former athletic director Scott Barnes was seeking a replacement for Jamie Dixon.
Tonight is a reminder of the giant chasm that was created by a man named Scott Barnes. Our basketball program has a long climb out of the abyss. I believe Coach Capel is the man to do it. Barnes will live in infamy at #Pitt ������
— Harry G. Psaros (@PittGuru) February 21, 2019
Even if he wanted to keep Dixon, Barnes probably could not have convinced him to stay at Pitt. The split was inevitable.
But if Dixon had lasted through Barnes’ tenure and started working for Heather Lyke, there’s a good chance Jeff Capel still would be the Pitt coach today. In the long run, Capel is a better fit than Dixon for Pitt and its membership in the ACC. Lyke would have realized that immediately.
After 13 successful seasons, Dixon was ready for another challenge, anyway.
But Barnes’ hand-picked successor to Dixon, Kevin Stallings (a decent man and a good coach, by the way) didn’t work out, and now Capel is picking up the pieces.
Here are three thoughts to take into Pitt’s break. The Panthers (12-15, 2-12) are off until Wednesday when they’ll meet Clemson at Petersen Events Center.
1. Conference has been unkind
Pitt has lost 36 of its past 39 games against ACC opponents. What’s strange about those numbers and encouraging at the same time is that two of those three victories came against top-20 teams this season — No. 16 Florida State and No. 18 Louisville. That means if Capel can keep the team from feeling sorry for itself, there is a chance to end the season on a positive note.
But the players, especially those who were on last year’s team, are carrying a heavy burden. Pitt has double-digit losing streaks in consecutive seasons (19 last year and 10 currently) for the first time in program history. Those losses and the environment they create appear to be lingering.
“That’s something you worry about,” Capel said after the Georgia Tech game, “especially with the history from last year that these guys experienced.”
2. Moments that matter
Games can be reduced to moments when a team has a chance to reverse its misfortune or falls into a hole that turns out to be too deep.
The first emerged Wednesday at the beginning of a game that turned out to be Pitt’s 22nd consecutive loss on a hostile court.
Pitt fell behind 25-7 with 7 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half. Many teams start slowly on the road, but Pitt doesn’t have the offensive punch to come back from such a deficit.
“For the first 13-14 minutes of this game we were not deserving of winning,” Capel said.
Yet Pitt rallied in the second half and moved to within two, one and three points of tying the game at three separate junctures.
• When it was 42-40 with 12:41 left in the game, Pitt failed to grab a defensive rebound, Georgia Tech took advantage and pumped the lead to 49-41 less than two minutes later.
• It was 52-51 with 7:57 left, but after a turnover and a foul, the lead was six 2:29 later.
• Trey McGowens, repeatedly heckled by the Georgia Tech fans after he put up an airball early in the game, hit a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 61-58 with 3:39 left. After that, Pitt missed three of four free-throw attempts, and Georgia Tech coasted to the victory.
Overall, Pitt missed 18 of 38 foul shots (52.6 percent).
“It became contagious,” Capel said.
3. Pitt will miss Jared Wilson-Frame
Over the past 10 games, Wilson-Frame has hit 38 of 91 attempts (41.8 percent) beyond the 3-point arc. Eight times, he has made four or more.
His ability and willingness to shoot from long range give Pitt its best chance to beat a zone defense and a nice complement to Xavier Johnson, who set a school freshman scoring record Wednesday (448 points).
With Johnson and McGowens, there’s hope for the future. But they can do nothing about this: Wilson-Frame is a senior.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .