Pitt men’s basketball waxes Gardner-Webb, 99-80


Victor Wu

Pitt forward Ryan Luther started his first career game. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

Despite his team’s easy 99-80 win over the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, Pitt men’s basketball head coach Kevin Stallings was disgruntled after the game.

“With all due respect to Gardner-Webb, I think we missed an opportunity to get better tonight,” Stallings said. “I was disappointed in our intensity, our concentration, our focus.”

There was at least one player Stallings didn’t have concerns with: senior forward Sheldon Jeter, whom Stallings coached at Vanderbilt in 2013 before Jeter transferred to Pitt.

“If I’m a senior, I have 28 more chances. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be like Sheldon Jeter was tonight,” Stallings said. “Sheldon looked like he was counting down and today was number 29. He played with effort and energy and attention to detail, and he talked, and he moved, and he covered for people and he rebounded. That’s how I’d want to play every game if I was a senior.”

Jeter — who notched his second career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds — said Stallings was more frustrated with the 19-point win Monday than the team’s three-point victory on Friday.

“[Stallings] liked the fact that going against a team we were supposed to win against, they punched us in the mouth, and we responded [on Friday],” Jeter said. “Today, he was a disappointed that there was lackluster energy. And there was.”

Stallings’ disappointment notwithstanding, the outcome of this one was never in doubt. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the contest came with the pregame starting lineup announcement.

Pitt junior forward Ryan Luther made his first career start in place of senior Michael Young, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds in the season opener Friday and earned ACC Co-Player of the Week honors for his performance earlier in the day. Stallings said Young’s benching was due to a “minor infraction” that he would not detail further.

The surprising lineup change would prove to be a minor footnote in a major blowout.

The Panthers dominated from the onset, only trailing in the opening seconds and improving to 2-0 with a 99-80 victory over the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs Monday night at the Petersen Events Center. The game was Pitt’s second win of the 2016 2K Classic, following a 93-90 double-overtime victory over Eastern Michigan last Friday.

Using a balanced offensive attack early, the Panthers received their first five buckets from five different players to jump out to a 12-5 lead. Young entered the game after the first media timeout to sub in for Luther, but the substitution failed to jolt Pitt’s offense as Gardner-Webb immediately went on a 5-0 run.

Taking Luther out for Young didn’t give the Panthers the spark they needed, but bringing him back in did the trick.

With 12:05 left in the first half, Luther pump-faked a defender, drove to the basket and converted a layup while drawing a foul. He hit the free throw to finish off the three-point play. A little over two minutes later, the 6-foot-9 forward utilized another pump fake to get to the rim, this time finishing with a powerful two-handed slam.

After Luther gave Pitt a boost, sophomore guard Cameron Johnson offered some breathing room. The 6-foot-8 wingman drilled a pair of threes and a layup to extend the Panthers’ lead to 16 with just under eight minutes left in the first half.

“[The run] just happened naturally in the flow of the game,” Johnson said. “My teammates did a good job of finding the open spots.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the team remained hot from beyond the arc, draining four more threes. Johnson tallied 14 points, three rebounds and three assists on a perfect five-for-five shooting performance, and Pitt led 52-32 at half.

While the team controlled the game throughout, Stallings didn’t think it would have been good enough against a stronger opponent.

“Maybe I’ve sent the wrong message about tempo and offense and things like that,” Stallings said. “We’re not ready to beat anybody that’s equivalent to us in terms of talent because we don’t sustain any type of defensive intensity.”

In terms of scoring, the second half saw more of the same as Young and senior forward Jamel Artis each scored layups in the post and senior guard Chris Jones followed with a 3-pointer. Young was scorching to start the second half, scoring 11 of Pitt’s first 16 points of the period and going five for five from the field.

Unlike the team’s season opener, the Panthers’ lead was never in danger of evaporating. Pitt’s advantage never dipped below 17 for the remainder of the game, thanks in large part to a 13 for 26 performance from beyond the arc.

“I think we got a lot of shots in the flow of the offense,” Johnson said. “If they played man-to-man, we were able to break them down and play inside-out and kick it out. Shots went in early.”

Young and Johnson led the Panthers in scoring with 18 points apiece.

Following the win, the Panthers will hit the road for the first time this season, traveling to New York for the elimination rounds of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. Their opening round matchup is against the Southern Methodist Mustangs on Thursday, Nov. 17.

ESPN2 will air the game vs. SMU with tipoff set for 7 p.m.

Stallings is confident his team will respond and show more urgency.

“These guys are good kids. They’ll respond,” Stallings said. “I was asked how I’ll get it fixed. They’ll fix it. They’ll want to fix it.”

Leave a comment.