Artis scores 31 to guide Panthers to 83-73 win over Rice


Pitt senior point guard Jamel Artis drives to the rim in a game against Eastern Michigan. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

The Pitt men’s basketball team had a new name atop the scoring sheet Saturday night, but the result was familiar: a hard-fought, back-and-forth victory over a supposedly inferior opponent.

The Panthers (9-2) defeated the Rice Owls (8-3) at the Petersen Events Center, 83-73, behind a game-high 31 points from senior point guard Jamel Artis. Junior forward Ryan Luther added a career-high 20 points along with a team-high seven rebounds in the win.

“I apologized to [Artis] after the game,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I singled out Ryan Luther in the locker room, I said, ‘Ryan, way to play man.’ Everybody gave Ryan a round of applause. I got the stat sheet and looked down, and Jamel’s got 31. I had no idea.”

Senior forward Michael Young — the ACC’s leading scorer — finished with only 12 points, his lowest scoring output of the season. It was the first time since Pitt’s season opener someone other than Young led the team in points.

Rice head coach Mike Rhoades said he would have liked his chances if he knew his defense would hold Young to just 12 points. But he wasn’t surprised by Luther stepping up in Young’s place.

“Ryan, he’s a talented dude,” Rhoades said. “He can really score that ball. We knew he could step out and shoot it … the other thing we’ve said about him his, he knows how to play. So he’s not going to force things, but he can score.”

Sophomore forward Cameron Johnson got things going with a quick turnaround in the post, then Rice answered with a 3-pointer from guard Marcus Jackson.

The teams traded buckets, then the Panthers jumped to a five-point lead at 14-9. But the Owls kept fighting back, eventually tying the game at 16 and again at 18. Luther then got his night started by draining a three off the bench to reclaim the lead for Pitt.

Luther followed an Owls layup with a layup of his own, and a 3-pointer from Johnson made it 26-22 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half.

Artis and Rice guard Connor Cashaw traded threes, and a fastbreak layup by true freshman point guard Justice Kithcart gave the Panthers their largest lead at 31-25. The Owls cut the lead to one at 34-33 before Pitt went on a 7-0 run to push it to 41-33.

Rice scored the final four points of the half to make it 41-37 at the break.

Jackson started the second half with a jumper for Rice to make it a two-point game, but a 9-2 Panthers run made it 50-41. The Owls then responded with nine straight points to tie the score at 50 with just under 12 minutes left in the game.

Artis ended Pitt’s nearly six-minute scoring drought with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then converted a layup off an inbounds to push the Panthers’ lead back to five. Redshirt junior guard Jonathan Milligan came off the bench and nailed a three to make it 58-50, and Rice head coach Mike Rhoades called a timeout with 10:02 to play.

A quick three by Jackson out of the timeout ended Pitt’s 8-0 run, then the Owls guard buried another one from beyond the arc after a pair of free throws by Luther. The Panthers extended their lead to eight on a 3-pointer by Luther, but Rice forward Egor Koulechov responded with a three of his own to make it 66-61.

A 3-pointer by guard Marcus Evans cut the Owls’ deficit to four with just under four minutes left, but that was the closest they would come the rest of the way. Artis nailed a 3-pointer, a layup, and three key free throws to seal the 83-73 victory for Pitt.

“It feels good, but the most important thing is that we won. I was just trying to make the open plays, make the right plays, and my teammates did a great job finding me,” Luther said after his career-best performance.

Artis finished one point shy of his career high, but he said he wasn’t aware of it during the game.

“I just wanted to get the win,” Artis said.

The Panthers will next host Nebraska-Omaha at the Pete at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21.