Thoughts and observations from Tech’s 81-74 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion. Game story here.
1. Not a great game for Tech. The Yellow Jackets controlled the action early, and took a 35-30 lead late in the first half. Tech pushed the ball well and, not surprisingly shot it well. The Jackets finished the first half shooting 48.1 percent from the field, about four points above their average.
For a few different reasons, it was easy to wonder if it could be sustained. One, Tech ordinarily doesn’t shoot that well for a game. Two, the Jackets were profiting from mistakes that Pittsburgh typically doesn’t make. (The Panthers had seven first-half turnovers, compared to their season game average of 9.8. Tech converted those mistakes into 11 points.) Three, Tech was getting beat up on the glass.
Indeed, Tech didn’t function as well offensively in the second half – after scoring on the first possession, the Jackets scored once in their next eight trips down the floor with three turnovers.
That gave Pittsburgh the fuel for a 9-0 run that gave the Panthers a lead they never relinquished. Pittsburgh did turn the ball over another seven times in the second half, although four of them were in the final three minutes, when the game was essentially decided. And the decisive advantage on the glass continued.
With 12 offensive rebounds, Pittsburgh scored 21 second-chance points to 11 for Tech.
2. That said, this was the best team that Tech has faced this season and might be the best team the Jackets play this year outside of Syracuse. There isn’t a lot of shame in losing to this outfit. Pitt has a terrific point guard in James Robinson (16 points on seven shots, five assists, one turnover, four steals,three rebounds). The Panthers defend well and, obviously, go hard on the glass.
“Hustle plays, that’s one thing they did great,” forward Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “They dove on the floor, got on the floor before we did. We were a step slow.”
Tech prides itself on its rebounding, and the Jackets were crushed on the boards, 38-18. Pitt had as many offensive rebounds as Tech did defensive rebounds, 12. It was Tech’s lowest rebound total since at least the 2000-01 season.
“You can make excuses with the injuries or whatever the case may be, but you’ve got to fight on the glass, and we didn’t have that, so I’m disappointed in that,” coach Brian Gregory said.
3. The injuries (Tech played without forwards Robert Carter and Jason Morris and guards Travis Jorgenson and Solomon Poole) were a factor, as was foul trouble. Carter was averaging 9.3 rebounds per game at the time of his injury, a rate that still leads the ACC. Bug I don’t think energy or fatigue was a defining issue. While Gregory only had eight scholarship players at his disposal, Pitt also only used eight players (with a ninth getting four minutes).
The other three players out, Jorgenson (ACL) and Poole (migraine) and Morris (concussion resulting from a car accident), aren’t exceptional rebounders, but the absences forced Tech to shift players out of normal roles. Stacey Poole, for instance, who typically plays the shooting guard and small forward spots and lately hasn’t been getting much time, played 17 minutes, some of it at power forward.
Further, Quinton Stephens fouled out in just 10 minutes and Kammeon Holsey played only 23 minutes. Tech out-rebounded its opponent in its first 15 games (the Maryland game was the 15th, one game after Carter was lost with his torn meniscus), but has been out-rebounded twice in the past three games.
4. Tech showed some fight, lowering Pittsburgh’s lead from a maximum of 14 points to seven with 1:20 left and the ball and four with 29 seconds after two Trae Golden free throws. But that wasn’t nearly enough.
The win over Notre Dame showed what can happen when the Jackets combine effort with execution. Particularly for as long as Poole and Morris are out, it’s going to be a rough ride. It’s possible both could be back for Saturday’s game against Miami, but it’s no certainty.
5. Corey Heyward did well in limited time again. He was on the floor for a 13-5 run at the end of the first half in which he assisted on two baskets, got a steal and scored on a layup. He looks increasingly comfortable and confident. He has a long way to go – Gregory thinks he won’t be fully back to himself until next season – but he’s showing promise of becoming a valuable piece of the puzzle.
“I think he’s coming on pretty good for us,” Gregory said of Heyward. It was, I imagine, a meaningful game for Heyward. His late father, NFL Pro Bowler Craig Heyward, played his college ball at Pitt. I’d have to think there were a few people on the Pitt side watching his hard-nosed play with a little bit of nostalgia.
6. Pretty good showing by the student section. The end zone was entirely full and students stayed until the end of the game, even though it appeared to be over when Pitt went up by 14 with 5:56 to go.
7. Gregory on the series of injuries: “It’s hard, but for some reason, we’re being put through these tests, and you need to stay strong, you need to stay positive. During these times, you can’t compromise your standards of what’s important to the program. As much as you’d like to slack up a little bit, you can’t do that, because these are the times that you build your character up and these are the times that you’re actually building the strength of your program. So you need to stick to what you know is going to be important, no matter who’s out there. I think our guys understand that.”