Pitt overpowered by FSU, sustains 3-game skid

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Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Sophomore guard Au’Diese Toney scored 15 points during Pitt’s 82-67 loss to Florida State on Tuesday.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

When Pitt and Florida State last met, the Panthers escaped with a 63-61 victory at the Petersen Events Center on Nov. 6. Since then, the season has gone in opposite directions for both teams. The Seminoles won 19 of their next 20 games and rose to a top-10 national ranking. Meanwhile, Pitt has struggled to keep its head above water in conference play.

And on Tuesday, the trajectory of both teams kept constant. The Panthers (15-12 overall, 6-10 ACC) were overpowered by No. 8 Florida State, (22-4 overall, 12-3 ACC) 82-67 on Tuesday night. The Seminoles avenged their opening-night loss to the Panthers and remained in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in March’s NCAA Tournament.

On the other hand, Pitt is days removed from a lifeless loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. In response, they defended and rebounded like the desperate team they are. They matched Florida State on the boards and created enough offense off of Seminole turnovers to stretch their lead to as many as seven.

But the Seminoles are undefeated on their homecourt for a reason and they proved why as the first 20 minutes wound down. It took less than eight minutes for the margin to flip. A 3-pointer from sophomore forward Wyatt Wilkes gave Florida State a seven-point lead of their own.

Blue-chip first-year Patrick Williams was essential to Florida State’s strong close. He ended the half tie for the game’s lead in points at 10 on only six shots from the field. After scoring 17 on in Saturday’s victory over Syracuse, Williams finished with a game-high 16 points and five rebounds against the Panthers.

Aiding the Seminoles was Pitt’s familiar struggles against zone defense. A 4:16 long scoring drought by the Panthers’ coincided with Florida State’s switch in scheme. The absurd length the Seminoles boast made allowed them to pack themselves inside of the 3-point line and dare the shooting-adverse Panthers to make shots from the outside.

Pitt did not. They mustered only an abysmal 18% from a 3-point range and could not force Florida State to expand their defense and open driving lanes.

Sophomore Au’Diese Toney and first-year Justin Champagnie found success scoring and distributing off of baseline drives, but it was not enough to counter Florida State’s 50% shooting from the floor.

Only five points separated either team entering halftime, but the final period got out of hand quickly for the Panthers. In less than three minutes, the deficit grew to double digits. The Panthers remained within striking distance for another five minutes, but were then blitzed by Florida State for six quick points in less than two minutes.

The Seminoles never looked back and cruised to a 22-point lead before head coach Leonard Hamilton emptied his bench for the final four minutes of gametime.

Toney stuffed the box score despite the loss, tallying 15 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes of action. Champagnie, along with junior Terrell Brown and sophomore Xavier Johnson joined Toney in double-figure scoring. Champagnie and Johnson’s scoring was aided by 14 combined free throws, of which they made 12.

Like the duo of Champagnie and Johnson, Pitt relied heavily on the charity stripe. Twenty-one of their 67 total points came from foul shots.

The Panthers have now dug themselves an even bigger hole with a third consecutive loss. They returned to the ACC standings’ bottom quadrant and have looked unsettlingly hapless in the process. Four games remain and Pitt is right on the edge of securing their fourth-straight losing conference record.

Tuesday’s loss highlights the danger of raising expectations too quickly. Pitt appeared to be an NCAA Tournament-caliber team when they bested the Seminoles in November. Now, even their standing for college basketball’s second-tier postseason is in question.

Pitt will attempt to right the ship when it hosts Virginia and its vaunted defense on Saturday at the Pete. Tip-off is slated for noon.

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