Clemson clobbers Pitt by way of the three, 72-52


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Sophomore guard Trey McGowens has his shot blocked during Pitt’s 72-52 loss to Clemson on Wednesday evening.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

College basketball is in the midst of the conference schedule’s dog days. Little time off in the middle of a long season leads to injuries and fatigue that can’t be afforded in a competitive league like the ACC.

Pitt men’s basketball was not immune to either of those on Wednesday night when it hosted Clemson. Tigers head coach Brad Brownell echoed that fact following the game.

“This year it seems like there’s three at the top [of the ACC] and there’s everybody else,” Brownell said. “It makes it hard. You gotta be ready every night … I think our league has also had a lot of injuries … And sometimes that’s a huge advantage when one team has guys and others are missing some.”

Pitt (15-10 overall, 6-8 ACC) followed up a gut-check win over Georgia Tech this past weekend with a lifeless 72-52 loss to Clemson (12-12 overall, 6-8 ACC) Wednesday night.

Alex Gorski | Staff Graphic Artist

The Tigers rely heavily on the 3-point shot to fuel their offense, but are typically poor shooters from that distance. As a result, Pitt was unprepared for their opening half offense. Clemson shot a blistering 46% from three, thanks in large part to junior forward Aamir Simms, who made his return from illness against the Panthers.

As Clemson’s leading scorer, Simms drew much of Pitt’s attention on defense down toward the low post. He was masterful passing out of Pitt’s double teams to the perimeter, and his teammates made extra passes that led to open 3-pointers.

The Panthers were unable to adjust. Even switched away from the zone defense the Tigers were shredding, the 3-pointers continued to rain down.

Pitt entered halftime down only eight, but quickly found itself down by as many as 15 in the second half after the Tigers went 7-9 from distance.

The Panthers clawed back, but it was too little too late. A pair of free throws from first-year guard Xavier Johnson cut Clemson’s lead to six with 7:03 left to play in the second half. But at the most inopportune time, Pitt pulled out one of its trademark scoring droughts — this one lasting more than two minutes.

Clemson’s lead ballooned to as many as 16, and Pitt fans made sure to shower boos before bolting for the exits. First-year forward Justin Champagnie said that his team’s offensive struggles against the Tigers were caused primarily by an unfamiliar zone look Brownell’s Tigers employed, but Pitt’s lack of execution as well.

“I feel like we weren’t really moving the ball as a team,” Champagnie said. “We let the ball stick. We weren’t doing that very well. We’re taught to let the ball hit the corners, hit the high post, hit the baseline and shoot at whatever they throw at you … We didn’t do that.”

Those droughts cost the Panthers another win, and Champagnie and Panthers head coach Jeff Capel believe it can all be traced to Pitt’s lack of movement on the offensive end.

“The first thing you have to do is make shots,” Capel said. “We also have to have movement against the zone. We can’t just stay in, and I thought we were that way against man or zone tonight, it didn’t matter.”

The consensus from Pitt’s players and coaches was that Clemson was hungrier. Desperate to regain a .500 record and move back into the ACC’s top half, they brought a chip on their shoulder that the Panthers no longer think they need.

But Capel wants to put that pressure squarely back on his players’ shoulders. He was disappointed and believes that his program needs to do more before they earn the praise that they have received.

“At some point it has to offend you,” Capel said. “At some point it has to offend you to just be close.”

It is a difficult balance to strike between supporting a young team and its struggles and being disappointed when the players aren’t reaching their potential. But it’s a balance Pitt needs to find. They have five more games to find the harmony between confidence and desire, the next coming on the road.

Pitt travels to Blacksburg this weekend to take on Virginia Tech.