Shooting woes have wiped out Pitt’s tournament hopes

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Joy Cao | Staff Photographer

First-year forward Justin Champagnie’s layup is blocked by Syracuse.

By Dalton Miller, Staff Writer

The Pitt men’s basketball team found itself on the wrong end of a blowout Wednesday night. The Panthers hosted Syracuse and with another poor offensive showing, fell by a score of 72-49 — their fifth loss in a row.

The Panthers once again failed to get anything going offensively, scoring a measly 49 points while shooting only 29% from the field. Shooting has been a struggle for most of the season, but even more so recently. Pitt has failed to shoot over 40% from the field since Feb. 8 against Georgia Tech, which was also the team’s last victory.

The Panthers’ struggles against Syracuse weren’t exactly surprising, as they’ve struggled against the zone all season. Head coach Jeff Capel’s crew had a rough time when they traveled to Syracuse in late January, shooting under 24% from behind the arc and a far better 39% from the field. This team has continued to show that it does not know how to attack a zone defense. Players swing the ball around the outside, consuming most of the shot clock, and proceed to shoot a hurried 3-pointer, which rarely falls in.

Wednesday’s loss, along with the rest of the losing streak, has highlighted the limitations of Pitt’s current team and its guards specifically. Sophomore Xavier Johnson went 1-6 from the field against Syracuse, while sophomore Trey McGowens made 50% of his shots, but only took six.

Over Pitt’s current five-game losing streak, Johnson has shot 13-46 and McGowens 10-49 from the field, which comes out to a grand total of 23-95, or 24%. These two were the stars of Pitt’s basketball team last year, and many thought they would grow tremendously this year and become true leaders of this team.

While Johnson and McGowens appear to have grown in terms of their leadership, their play often seems as if it has regressed.

Both force bad shots and rather consistently fail to play smart basketball. It’s imperative that these two turn it around for the Panthers to succeed next year, as they still do not have any guards signed for the 2020 class.

On another note, Pitt once again came out looking flat and not ready to compete. This showed in the box score as the team trailed by 16 at half and managed to cut the second-half differential down to only seven. Of course, this still combined to put them down by a whopping 23 points at the end of the game, but there was some clear improvement after the half. The Panthers need to start coming out with some fire at the beginning of games, or they will continue to find themselves facing insurmountable deficits by the time halftime comes around.

While this game was another bad loss for Pitt basketball, there was at least one bright spot — first-year forward Justin Champagnie. Though Champagnie also struggled with his shot, going only 4-11 from the field, he managed to knock down all five of his free throws and put up an impressive 17 rebounds. He has proven himself to be Pitt’s most consistent player this season, and perhaps the most talented on the roster.

There was one other significant performance for the Panthers, this one coming from senior walk-on guard Anthony Starzynski. He received a career-high 11 minutes, giving him the chance to put up a career-high six shots. Though he only managed to get one of his six attempts from deep to go down, he earned himself a lot of praise from the crowd when that one shot did fall. Of course, Starzynski getting such free reign on senior night only came due to the blowout, but it was still one nice takeaway from an otherwise dreadful performance from Pitt.

With this recent losing skid, it is now almost a guarantee that Pitt will not participate in any form of postseason play, unless an unlikely run to an ACC Championship happens. Still, the team’s next couple games carry high importance. If the Panthers can wrap up the season with a good win or two, they can create some positive momentum for next season and prove that they are capable of turning things around.

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