Pitt men’s basketball head coach Kevin Stallings admitted Monday that his team could use a third scoring option to go with seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis.
Sophomore guard Cameron Johnson was that third scoring threat in Pitt’s win over Yale on Tuesday, providing Young and Artis with just enough help to give the Panthers the win.
“We believe anybody can get going at any moment, it’s just a matter of who gets the opportunity in the offense,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s anything where we need to change anything offensively, I think we just need to get better at what we’re doing.”
Pitt (4-1) defeated the Yale Bulldogs (2-2), 75-70, at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night. Young led the Panthers with 24 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season, while Artis finished with 20 points and Johnson added 15.
“We were very happy to win,” Stallings said. “Some things we would have liked to have done better in the second half going down the stretch, but there were also some things that we did pretty well.”
Young drained a close-range jumper to start the scoring for Pitt, then both teams fell into a cold spell. After going more than three minutes without scoring, Yale got on the board on first-year guard Miye Oni’s 3-pointer.
The teams traded buckets, with the Panthers on top at the first media timeout, 6-5.
Another 3-pointer by Oni pushed Yale’s lead to 12-8, then Young muscled his way to an offensive rebound and three-point play. The Bulldogs held a one-point lead at the second media timeout at 12-11.
Yale continued to find open shots from long range, as two more 3-pointers from sophomore guard Alex Copeland and Oni pushed the Bulldogs’ lead to 20-13. Young then cut into the deficit with a jump hook in the lane, and back-to-back layups by senior forward Sheldon Jeter made it 20-19.
Young remained hot coming out of the third media timeout, hitting a jumper to put Pitt back in the lead, 21-20, but Yale came right back with an easy bucket in the paint to go back ahead. Panthers sophomore guard Cameron Johnson hit his first bucket of the game from way beyond the arc, then senior guard Anthony Dallier answered with a three of his own for the Bulldogs.
The teams continued to trade shots and exchange the lead, as Young hit another jumper the next time down the floor to make it 26-25.
From there, Pitt tightened up on defense and started to assume control of the game. Artis converted a nifty left-handed layup coming out of the final media timeout before the half, and Young added another jumper to make it a five-point game.
Yale called a timeout with 51 seconds left in the half, then ended its nearly six-minute scoring drought on an offensive rebound and putback by senior forward Sam Downey.
After a timeout by Stallings, Artis hit a jumper to make it 32-27 with eight seconds left in the half. But Copeland raced down the floor and hit a circus shot while getting knocked to the ground, then made the ensuing free throw to make it a 32-30 Pitt lead at halftime.
Downey put up his fourth basket of the game only eight seconds into the second half to tie the game at 32. Artis hit a pair of free throws on the Panthers’ next trip down the floor, but the Bulldogs came right back and tied it up on Oni’s layup.
Johnson made a pair of free throws for Pitt, then Artis finished a nice drive to the hoop by making a tough contested layup and drawing a foul. He hit the free throw to complete the three-point play, and Young followed a Yale 3-pointer with a three-point play of his own.
After going more than 26 minutes without scoring, the Panthers received their first points off the bench when junior guard Jonathan Milligan swished a 3-pointer to make it 49-38. Then, with just over nine minutes left in the game, junior forward Ryan Luther got on the board for Pitt.
Luther’s layup on a nice transition pass from true freshman guard Justice Kithcart made it 53-42, but Downey made a pair of buckets to keep the Bulldogs in the game.
Young hit another tough shot on Pitt’s next possession, but Yale kept hitting from deep to cut into the deficit. A 3-pointer from Dallier and two more triples from sophomore forward Blake Reynolds reduced Pitt’s lead to 57-53.
With the Bulldogs turning to the long ball to get back in the game, the Panthers turned to Johnson to do the same. The 6-foot-8 wingman hit from 3-point range on Pitt’s next three possessions to extend the lead to 66-57 at the final media timeout.
“That was a big boost,” Young said about Johnson’s long-range barrage. “They went zone, they kind of kept it compact, took away our driving lanes and kind of made us use the pass more than the drive and dribble. It just opened up things for us and helped us keep the lead.”
After the timeout, sophomore guard Trey Phills added his first points of the game for Yale on a tough layup inside to make it 66-59. Young then hit a pair of free throws on the other end to make it a nine-point game with a little over three minutes left.
Luther went diving into the Panthers’ bench to save a loose ball with under two minutes to go, but inadvertently created a fastbreak for the Bulldogs. Copeland hit his second 3-pointer of the game to make it 68-62 Pitt.
A pair of free throws by Luther made it 70-62, but Copeland absorbed a hard foul from Artis and somehow got a layup to fall. He hit the free throw to make it 70-65 with 90 seconds left to play.
Senior guard Chris Jones made one out of two free throws for the Panthers, then Young recorded his fourth block on the other end. But the ball went out of bounds, and after a timeout, Reynolds nailed his fourth-three pointer to make it a three-point game with under a minute left.
Artis hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to five, but Downey came right back with an easy layup to make it 73-70 with 23 seconds left. The Bulldogs again put Artis on the foul line, where he hit one out of two to make it a four-point game.
Then, after showing so much resilience to claw back into the game, Yale lacked any urgency on its final possession and failed to get a good shot off. Pitt held on to win a hard-fought battle, 75-70.
“It’s something we can learn from. We’d much rather learn from a victory than a defeat,” Stallings said. “Our guys made some key free throws there going down the stretch … I was proud of them for that.”
The Panthers will next host Morehead State at the Pete at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25.