Panthers lose 22nd-straight road game at GT, 73-65


Knox Coulter | Staff Photographer

Senior guard and forward Jared Wilson-Frame (4), pictured here against Virginia Tech on Feb. 16, led all Pitt scorers with 19 points.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

While the ACC’s first- and third-ranked teams Duked it out in a nationally televised battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium, elsewhere in Atlanta a different battle took place. This one involved the conference’s worst and third-worst teams — Pitt and Georgia Tech, respectively.

Plagued by a season-worst performance at the foul line, the Panthers fell 73-65 to bring their road losing streak to 22 games.

Pitt looked to be out of it early in this one, trailing as much as 18 in the first half before finally turning things around. The referees afforded the Panthers ample opportunities to come back, granting them 38 free throws compared to 24 for Georgia Tech. But Pitt failed to take advantage, missing a season-high 18 free-throw attempts and never overtaking the Yellow Jackets, despite pulling within one point.

Georgia Tech also put on a dominant display of rim protection, racking up 12 blocks compared to just one for Pitt. Paired with a 29-point performance from sophomore guard Jose Alvarado, the Yellow Jackets took a lead three minutes in and never relinquished it.

For those not present at McCamish Pavilion, the first five minutes of this game were an unseen mystery, as the overtime session of Boston College-NC State took precedence on the same TV channel. Pitt trailed 8-2 when the game finally came on, having scored off a pair of free throws from first-year guard Xavier Johnson. The Panthers didn’t make a field goal for the first four minutes and 48 seconds, finally getting a second-chance layup from junior center Kene Chukwuka to make it 8-4.

Senior sharpshooter Jared Wilson-Frame knocked down a 3-pointer to give Pitt seven points and make it a one-basket game, but it was all downhill from there for the Panthers. They couldn’t get unstuck from seven points, missing their next six field goals while the Yellow Jackets went on a 17-0 run. The roughly seven-minute scoring drought — which has become a trademark of the young Panthers this season — finally ended when Wilson-Frame knocked down two technical free throws at the 7:54 mark.

After getting down as much as 18 points, the Panthers finally began to climb out of the hole they put themselves in. They tried out a full-court press that resulted in a 6-0 run, making the score a more manageable 27-17 and prompting a timeout from Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner.

The time-out did little to quell Pitt’s rising momentum. Pastner’s Yellow Jackets continued to fold under the heavy man pressure, turning the ball over twice more before half’s end. Pitt turned both those turnovers into points and finished the half with 10 points off opponent turnovers, compared to five for Georgia Tech.

Three straight baskets — a floater from sophomore Terrell Brown, a jumper from Johnson and a layup from junior Malik Ellison — furthered Pitt’s comeback effort, and the Panthers went back to the halftime locker room trailing 34-27.

Johnson and Wilson-Frame provided the lion’s share of Pitt’s first-half production, with Johnson contributing 12 and Wilson-Frame seven of the team’s 27 points. The Panthers shot an ugly 31 percent from the field compared to 45 percent for Georgia Tech, but they made up for it by outscoring the Yellow Jackets 9-4 at the free-throw line.

The first five minutes of the second half saw Pitt slowly chipping away at Georgia Tech’s lead, drawing within five points to make it 39-34. The score could have been much closer, if not for the Panthers’ inaccuracy at the foul line. After Brown and sophomore Khameron Davis both missed one of two free throws, Pitt had made just 11 of its 22 free-throw attempts.

Wilson-Frame entered Wednesday as one of the ACC’s top 3-point shooters, having knocked down at least four 3-pointers in seven of Pitt’s previous nine games to give him the second-most makes in the conference. He continued his red-hot streak by sinking consecutive threes to bring Pitt within two points, 40-42, with 12:41 remaining.

The next few minutes were like a seesaw, with Georgia Tech cracking open an eight-point lead and threatening to take over, only for Pitt to storm back and make it 52-51 after a fast-break dunk from first-year guard Trey McGowens and another 3-pointer from Wilson-Frame.

For all Wilson-Frame’s shooting, the Panthers just couldn’t muster the output to tie the game or take the lead. Free-throw shooting continued to be the biggest issue. Trailing 62-58, first-year forward Au’Diese Toney stepped to the line and made one of two attempts. Davis grabbed the rebound and was fouled, but missed both ensuing free throws, giving Pitt a horrendous 16 of 34 mark from the foul line.

As the fouls piled up, players from both sides began to foul out of the game after committing their fifth foul. McGowens was the first to go, exiting with 3:15 remaining. He was followed by Georgia Tech first-year Michael Devoe at 2:50 and junior James Banks III at 2:01.

Losing 67-61 and needing a basket to stay in the game with 44 seconds left, Pitt got a good scoring chance when Toney drove down an open lane for a layup. But sophomore forward Moses Wright rose out of nowhere to swat the ball out of the air, putting an end to any hopes of a Panther comeback. Pitt played the foul game in an effort to come back, but Georgia Tech knocked down its free throws to win 73-65.

Wilson-Frame led all Pitt scorers with 19 points, followed by 14 from Johnson and 11 from Brown. Toney chipped in a peculiar stat line, scoring just three points on 1-10 shooting but making up for it with a team-high 10 rebounds.

With the loss, Pitt slides to 12-15 overall and 2-12 in the ACC, while Georgia Tech moves up to 12-15 overall and 4-10 in the ACC. It also marks the Panthers’ 10th consecutive loss this season dating back to Jan. 19. Pitt will look to get its first win in more than two months when it hosts Clemson, which won the first meeting 82-69, next Wednesday at 7 p.m.