Despite playing its best in-conference game of the season, the Pitt men’s basketball team came up short of a crucial victory and let a 15-point lead slip away — dropping its eighth straight ACC game, 72-68, to the NC State Wolfpack.
Playing in front of a home crowd in the ACC’s late-night 9 p.m. slot, Pitt (8-13 overall, 0-8 ACC) came into Wednesday night’s matchup as heavy underdogs versus an NC State team (14-7 overall, 4-4 ACC) that notched victories over top-ranked Arizona and Duke teams earlier in the season.
The Panthers played an impeccable first half but allowed a 15-2 Wolfpack run in the game’s final minutes.
“It’s hard to look down and see you outshot them from the floor and outshot them from three and you still lose the game,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “But we just couldn’t make a shot in the second half.”
The Panthers continued their trend of poor starts with a run of sloppy play to start the game against the Wolfpack. NC State scored 17 points in the first five minutes, while sophomore Kene Chukwuka and first year Khameron Davis each made a three-pointer to score the Panthers’ only six points.
Instead of trying to run the offense in the paint, the Panthers continued to fire up threes. The strategy paid off, as Pitt went on a quick 11-0 run to tie the game at 17 midway through the first half.
Junior Jared Wilson-Frame led the Panthers’ early deep-range attack, going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc early in the game. With six minutes left in the first half, Pitt led 31-23, with Wilson-Frame adding 11 points.
The Panthers seemed to get solid shots on each offensive possession for the rest of the half. A no-look pass from Wilson-Frame resulted in a wide open dunk for first year Terrell Brown, giving Pitt a 40-28 advantage. When Davis knocked down a three on the next possession, the Panthers’ lead stood at 15 points — their largest of the game.
“That was the best stretch of basketball we played all season,” Stallings said. “I just feel bad for my guys that we couldn’t get the win. These guys deserve a win.”
Pitt took a 43-33 lead going into halftime — its first halftime lead of ACC play this season. The Panthers outplayed their opponent in every facet of the game throughout the first half, holding an advantage in rebounds, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. Wilson-Frame led all scorers with 13 points, followed by Davis with nine.
Wilson-Frame continued his streak to begin the second half. The junior was an offensive force coming out of halftime, accounting for the team’s first nine points in the second as the Panthers stretched their lead, 52-41, five minutes in.
The two teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, with neither team able to mount any significant momentum. Eventually, the Wolfpack began to chip away at the deficit and managed to close within five points, 62-57, with 7:47 left in the game, after a personal 6-0 run by redshirt junior Torin Dorn.
Chukwuka momentarily stalled NC State’s run with a couple layups, but the Wolfpack responded with an 8-0 run. The Panthers clung to a one-point lead with four minutes left in the game, until the advantage shifted in the Wolfpack’s favor when first year Braxton Beverly knocked down a three to give NC State its first lead in 28 minutes.
For the remainder of the game, the offense disappeared, as the Panthers couldn’t get a single shot to fall. First-year guards Parker Stewart and Marcus Carr — typically some of Pitt’s best deep-range threats — failed to knock down wide open three-point shots on important possessions. The Panthers began to foul but couldn’t convert on offense and watched helplessly as the clock hit zero with the scoreboard reading 72-68, in favor of the Wolfpack.
“A couple less turnovers, a few better shots and we’re right there,” first-year forward Shamiel Stevenson said afterward. “Just little things like that. We’re so close.”
The game was a tale of two halves, with the Panthers dominating the first and getting dominated in the second. After shooting 8-for-15 on three-pointers in the first half, Pitt went 0-for-14 on threes in the second half.
Wilson-Frame finished as Pitt’s leading scorer with 22 points while also adding four rebounds and four assists. Stewart — who came into the game as Pitt’s hottest player, averaging 19 points in the previous two games — finished with just two points, while Stevenson chipped in 11 points and six rebounds.
The Panthers will get another chance to end their ACC drought Saturday, Jan. 27, against Syracuse at the Petersen Events Center at 4 p.m.