Stallings prepares Panthers for first road game at Maryland


Pitt men's basketball head coach Kevin Stallings previewed the Panthers' first true road game of the season at Maryland Tuesday night. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

For the first time under new head coach Kevin Stallings, the Pitt men’s basketball team will step onto an opposing team’s court for a true road game.

Stallings and the Panthers (5-1) will travel to College Park, Maryland, Tuesday night to take on the Maryland Terrapins (7-0) as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at 7 p.m. The game will likely be Pitt’s toughest non-conference test of the year, and although it’s still early in the season, Stallings isn’t shying away from the game’s significance.

“It’s like I told our team: There are some games that are more valuable than other games… this would be one that would certainly qualify,” Stallings said at a press conference Monday. “I would think that in the eyes of the [selection] committee, when that day comes, this has the chance to look like a good one if you’re able to get it.”

But winning in front of nearly 18,000 hostile Terps fans inside the raucous Xfinity Center will be Stallings’ biggest coaching challenge yet at Pitt.

“They’re deep, they can shoot … excellent passing team, and their numbers are really good defensively,” Stallings said.

Maryland hasn’t been dominant during its 7-0 start, but the Terps have found a way to win close games, thanks to one key ingredient: point guard Melo Trimble.

Trimble, a 6-foot-3 junior, is the second-highest scorer in the Big Ten with an average of 21.1 points per game. He scored 31 in Maryland’s 88-82 double-overtime win against Richmond in the semifinals of the Barclays Classic Nov. 26, then made a layup with 6.6 seconds left in a 69-68 win over Kansas State the next day in the tournament’s final round.

“He’s terrific with the ball in his hands, a terrific downhill player,” Stallings said about Trimble. “Seeing some of the things that he’s done in their games … he has a knack for, when it’s winning time, when the game’s in the balance, he understands how to assert himself in the most productive ways.”

On the opposite end, Pitt’s lineup features the ACC’s top two scorers in seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis, averaging 23.3 and 19.3 points per game, respectively.

“I think for us, when it gets to winning time, then that’s when it’s most crucial that Mike and Jamel demonstrate their senior leadership,” Stallings said. “I think defensively, it’s, ‘Can we somehow get the ball out of Melo Trimble’s hands enough to make somebody else beat us?’”

The Panthers have had no trouble scoring this year, thanks mostly to Artis and Young. But Stallings, who traditionally utilized a man-to-man defense as head coach at Vanderbilt, is still trying to figure out what defense will work best for his group.

“Our zone has to be good,” Stallings said. “I’m giving other defenses more time in practice than I maybe ever have as a coach, because I feel like our zone is going to have to be productive for us. I know it’s not going to be great in every game, but there are going to be games when it can be beneficial and can be helpful, and it has to be ready.”

Facing a quick, dangerous point guard like Trimble without a true counterpart in the defensive backcourt could cause Stallings to go with the zone more often than not against Maryland. Other than that, Stallings thinks the game — like many others — could come down to who controls the glass.

“The boards will be a big key. They’re a good offensive rebounding team — that will be a big key for us. Our ability to set our defense and get back in transition will be a big thing for us as well,” Stallings said. “Then on the offensive end, we just have to try to utilize our advantages where we can.”

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