The Pitt men’s basketball team is now all alone in the cellar.
In a matchup of the two last-place teams in the ACC, the Clemson Tigers (12-8 overall, 2-6 ACC) defeated the Panthers (12-9 overall, 1-7 ACC) at the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon, 67-60. Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame showed why he is one of the best players in the conference, scoring at will all night and finishing with a game-high 25 points.
“We’re disappointed, obviously,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I thought we competed a lot harder, competed a lot smarter today than we had in some previous games.”
Blossomgame — Clemson’s leading scorer and best player — started fast, making 3-pointers on each of the Tigers’ first two possessions. The Panthers responded, making three straight shots and forcing two Clemson turnovers. At the first media timeout, the Tigers led 10-9.
Both teams struggled to shoot the ball out of the timeout, as the Tigers made just one of their next seven shots while Pitt’s only points came on three free throws — two from sophomore guard Cameron Johnson and the other from senior guard Chris Jones. With just under 12 minutes left in the half, the score was tied at 12.
The Panthers then turned to their bench for a spark, as reserve guard Jonathan Milligan made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Pitt a 21-16 lead. But Clemson put together a 5-0 run to tie things up, thanks in large part to forward Donte Grantham.
Grantham swatted Panthers forward Michael Young’s layup attempt into the stands and stared down the fans in the Oakland Zoo, then followed with a huge dunk on the other end to knot the game at 21. Each offense played well over the next few minutes, as Pitt made four straight shots while the Tigers made their next five.
The teams went back and forth for the remainder of the half, but Pitt senior Jamel Artis drilled a 3-point shot with four seconds left to give the Panthers a 36-31 lead at the break.
It was a relatively even first half between the two teams, with both shooting roughly 48 percent from the field. Clemson outrebounded the Panthers early, but at halftime the Tigers only held a slight 16-15 advantage on the boards.
Blossomgame led Clemson in the first half with 13 points on 5-8 shooting. Artis was the only other player in double figures, as he tallied 10 points and two rebounds in the half.
The Tigers then came out of the break scorching hot and took complete control of the game, scoring the opening 12 points of the second half to take a 43-36 lead and force Stallings to call a timeout.
“The start of the second half really was our undoing,” Stallings said. “We can’t have a bad three-or-four minute stretch. We don’t have that kind of margin for error.”
Clemson maintained its lead in the ensuing sequence, as the team’s advantage grew to 10 with 10:39 to go. Pitt’s offense went missing over this stretch, with the team missing 10 straight shots at one point and making just one of its first 14 shots to start the second half.
“We didn’t start the second half the way we have to start to have any chance of taking control of that game,” Stallings said.
Free throws managed to keep the Panthers in the game though, as Clemson committed seven fouls in the first 11 minutes of the half. Four made free throws helped Pitt claw back within five at 56-51 with eight minutes to go in the game.
“When the jump shot [is] not falling, we have to drive the basketball and create some contact. I think we did that, though, in the second half and got some foul-line shots,” Artis said.
The Panthers continued to cut into the Tigers’ lead at the line, closing the gap to three after a pair of free throws by Young with 4:35 remaining. But Clemson responded, scoring the next four points to go up 64-57.
With 1:26 to go, the Panthers had the ball down four. Artis had a look from 3-point range, but he couldn’t convert. The Tigers added a layup on their next possession to go up 66-60, then held on for a 67-60 win.
“I felt like this is one that we really should have won, and it was one that we really needed moving ahead,” Johnson said. “The string of losses we’ve put together now is pretty tough, but we just have to keep fighting together.”
Pitt’s poor shooting was again the main reason for the loss, as the team shot just 17.9 percent in the second half and finished by making only two of its last 12 shots in the defeat. ACC scoring leaders Artis and Young both fell short of 20 points in the game, as Young shot only 3-for-16 from the field.
“We’re very dependent upon Mike [Young] and Jamel [Artis] to score,” Stallings said. “There has to be more of a reliance on system and scheme and that kind of thing.”
The Panthers will resume play Tuesday, Jan. 31, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, against the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“It doesn’t get any easier … matter of fact, it gets harder,” Stallings said. “I’ll continue to do the very best I can for these guys, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
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Gallery by Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer