The Pitt men’s basketball team’s lack of depth has proven to be a big problem so far this season — and it showed on Thursday night.
The Panthers (2-1) fell to the Southern Methodist Mustangs (3-0), 76-67, in the semifinals of the 2016 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warriors Project, an annual tournament held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The first half was a back and forth affair that saw five lead changes and multiple runs by both teams.
The Panthers shot the ball poorly to start, only making one of their first five shots from the field. The Mustangs shot much better, starting five-of-nine from the field to take an early 11-5 lead.
Pitt came right back with an 8-0 run, including back-to-back three pointers by sophomore guard Cameron Johnson, to take a 13-11 lead seven minutes into the game.
Coming out of the media timeout with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings substituted guard Justice Kithcart and forward Ryan Luther into the game. The choice immediately paid off, as both players made layups soon after play resumed to extend the Panthers lead to five.
SMU responded with an explosive 16-0 run to take a commanding 31-20 with six minutes to go in the first half, forcing Stallings to take a timeout.
During the timeout, Pitt went back to its starting lineup of Michael Young, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter, Chris Jones and Johnson and switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone. The change made a clear difference as the Panthers went on a 13-0 run behind seniors Young and Artis to end the half with a 33-31 lead.
Young and Artis both ended the half with 10 points, shooting a combined 50 percent. They were followed closely by Johnson, who had nine on three 3-pointers. But despite holding a slim lead, the Panthers lack of depth was apparent as Artis, Young and Johnson scored all but four of Pitt’s first half points.
SMU had much more success against the zone to start the second half as Mustangs head coach Tim Jankovich made several offensive adjustments during the break. SMU took a 54-45 lead early in the half after two consecutive baskets by forward Semi Ojeleye.
Pitt still managed to keep the game within reach as they cut the lead to five after a putback dunk by Jeter.
But the Mustangs rallied, scoring five straight points to extend the lead to 10 with 6:58 to go in the game. Pitt refused to quit, and the deficit was trimmed to four with 4:52 to go after a pair of free throws from Young.
With just over four minutes to go, the Panthers had the ball and were down by six. Jamel Artis shot a three-pointer that hit off the rim, and SMU forward Ben Moore grabbed the rebound. Luther was called for a foul — his fifth of the game — on the play, forcing him to sit on the bench for the remainder of the game.
The Mustangs made the ensuing free throws to stretch the lead out again — this time for good — as they closed out the game, winning 76-67.
The loss marks the first defeat of Stallings’ short tenure at Pitt. While the new coach has succeeded in getting Young and Artis to produce early on, he’s struggling to get the best out of the supporting players.
Young and Artis scored 22 and 20 points, respectively, on the night, but they were the only players in double figures. Outside of the two seniors, the Panthers only scored 25 points on 10-of-26 shooting. In order to stay competitive in conference play, Pitt will need to get production from some of the younger players.
The Panthers will have to settle for a matchup in the tournament’s third-place game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Nov. 18, at 4:30 p.m.