The Pitt men’s basketball team’s first season under head coach Kevin Stallings — and first losing season in 17 years — appears to be over.
The Panthers (16-17) fell to the No. 21 Virginia Cavaliers (22-9), 75-63, in the second round of the ACC Tournament Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. First-year Cavaliers guard Kyle Guy and Pitt sophomore guard Cameron Johnson led all players with 20 points each.
Stallings had effusive praise for Guy, a sharpshooter who made half of his 92 3-point attempts in the regular season.
“He’s got a terrific ability to make baskets,” Stallings said. “He’s got great legs and lift on his shot, so he elevates and he can shoot with his body not all the way turned and not all the way squared up, and still shoot very accurately.”
Panthers seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young tallied 18 and 14 points, respectively, in what was most likely their final collegiate game.
“I really enjoyed these seniors,” Stallings said. “I don’t think that there’s any question that it’s been dysfunctional at times. But I’ve enjoyed them individually and I’ve enjoyed them collectively.”
With the loss, Pitt is almost certainly out of contention for a bid in the National Invitation Tournament and is unlikely to return to the College Basketball Invitational tournament, which the Panthers won five years ago.
The score might not show it, but this was a competitive game throughout with plenty of heart and determination shown by both teams.
Johnson got Pitt on the board first with a runner in the lane. Guy answered with a jumper for Virginia to tie things up, then Johnson hit a three from the top of the key to put the Panthers back on top.
Pitt’s lead didn’t last long though, as the Cavaliers took a 10-7 advantage into the first media timeout thanks to two more 3-pointers from Guy.
Virginia guard Ty Jerome hit a contested 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up 15-9, then Young threw the ball away for the second time in the game. Virginia guard Darius Thompson then made a contested three of his own to make it an 18-9 Cavaliers lead midway through the first half.
Artis hit a corner three next time down the court to trim the gap back to six, but Thompson immediately answered with another three from the same spot. Artis then followed a layup by Virginia guard Marial Shayok to make it a 23-15 game at the third media timeout.
Johnson sprang open in the corner after the break for his second 3-pointer of the game, cutting the Cavaliers’ lead back to five with 7:31 left in the first half.
Both offenses went cold, as both teams went several minutes without making a field goal. Jerome hit another three in the corner to put Virginia up by eight with just over a minute left before the break, then Guy followed with another shot from beyond the arc to give the Cavaliers an 11-point lead going into halftime.
“[Guy] is a pretty good shooter, so that’s why you’ve got to worry about the [3-point] line. Make it tough on them,” Artis said. “But give that to them. They made tough shots.”
Guy led all scorers at the break with 11 points, while Artis and Johnson led the Panthers with eight points apiece. Virginia took great care of the basketball, turning it over only three times in the opening 20 minutes compared to seven giveaways for Pitt.
The Panthers came out of the break inspired, as Young hit a jumper and Artis followed with a fastbreak layup to cut the deficit to seven.
Young then made a putback and followed a jumper by Guy with a pair of free throws to keep it a six-point game. Cavaliers point guard London Perrantes made two free throws of his own on the other end, then Pitt senior guard Chris Jones responded with a 3-pointer to make it 40-35 Virginia with 15:47 remaining.
Senior forward Sheldon Jeter followed a pair of Cavaliers free throws with a 3-pointer for the Panthers, then Artis hit another three after two more free throws from Guy. An emphatic dunk from Jeter then brought Pitt within one with just over 13 minutes left.
The Panthers had all the momentum at that point, but Virginia refused to give up the lead.
Guy dribbled to the top of the key and buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game, then Perrantes then started to heat up from deep. The senior point guard drained a wide open three in the corner and answered a three from Artis with another one on the Cavaliers’ next possession.
An off-balance layup by Perrantes made it a 10-point game, then a fast break dunk from Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins forced Stallings to call timeout with 5:30 remaining.
Johnson stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer for Pitt — aided by a friendly bounce — but Jerome came right back with a three to put the Cavaliers back up by 12. Virginia controlled the game from there and held on for the 75-63 win.
“We gave them too many threes. That was the key,” Artis said. “Running them off the 3-point line is something that we preached about over these last couple hours. We didn’t do the job on the 3-point line.”
Young somberly reflected on the realization that his college career is likely coming to an end after the loss.
“Coming into this tournament, we honestly believed that we could go far, win it all and really do something special,” Young said. “Tonight with this game, that got cut short … I’m proud of my team. Everybody played hard, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Stallings seemed satisfied with the heart his team showed despite falling behind by double-digits at the half.
“I was very proud of how our guys fought, how our guys came together this week,” Stallings said. “To perform the way they did last night and grind out that win against Georgia Tech, and then come out tonight and really fight to the very end. There was no back up, no give up, no give in. I was proud of them for that.”
Depending on whether the Panthers receive and accept an invitation to the NIT or CBI, their season may have come to an end Wednesday night. They finished Stallings’ debut season with a 16-17 overall record, their first losing season in 17 years.