Hurricanes roll over Pitt, 85-64, in penultimate Panthers home game


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt forwards Mouhamadou Gueye (15) and John Hugley (23) fight for the ball with a Miami player during the Pitt vs. Miami men’s basketball game on Tuesday night.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

The Petersen Events Center housed a battle between two desperate teams on Tuesday night. Pitt, the hosts, entered with the bitter taste of a 68-62 loss to then-last place Georgia Tech still in its mouth while Miami sought a win to keep it on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The Hurricanes rolled into town, dragging hopes of a tournament berth in tow. Pegged as one of the “Last Four In” by ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi, a loss to Pitt would have knocked Miami from the ranks of the postseason bound. The Canes needed to win and did more than just emerge victorious — they ran Pitt out of its own gym.

Everything was lacking Tuesday for Pitt (11-18 overall, 6-12 ACC), which kicked off a stretch of three games against opponents in the top four of the conference standings, with a flat, sleepy performance against Miami (20-8 overall, 12-5 ACC). The Panthers trailed by 20 at halftime and lost by even more. It was a good old-fashioned beatdown incompletely summarized by the 85-64 final score.

Pitt players and coaches were disappointed when they lost to the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. Sophomore forward John Hugley sounded defeated Tuesday. He said he was tired like lots of teams and players around the country and, when asked about the mood among the team, he didn’t have a definite answer.

“I think guys are disappointed, but just ready to finish the season, I guess I’d say.” Hugley said. “I don’t know.”

Pitt committed 20 turnovers in total on Tuesday night, each one more careless than the last, to tally its second-highest giveaway total in a single game this season. The Panthers sailed passes over each others’ heads, dribbled into multiple defenders and even passed the ball right to their opponents at times.

They shot a better percentage from the field than they have in all but five of their regular season games this year. Still, the turnovers committed on offense and free driving lanes surrendered on defense were shovels with which Pitt dug themselves an insurmountable hole, according to head coach Jeff Capel.

“[Miami] has elite shot makers,” Capel said. “But we dug ourselves a hole with the turnovers once again. We have to value the ball. If we do that, we’ll get good looks. … But it’s just entirely too many turnovers.”

While Pitt’s own starting backcourt of Ithiel Horton, Femi Odukale and Jamarius Burton struggled to handle and shoot the basketball, Miami’s guards beat them over and over on both ends of the court.

Three of the starting Hurricanes guards — redshirt senior Kameron McGusty, redshirt senior Charlie Moore and junior Jordan Miller — combined for 50 points on 61% shooting from the field, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and seven steals. Pitt knew full well how good the Miami guards were coming into Tuesday night, and was still helpless against them.

Pitt’s most competitive run came in the first half, when graduate forward Mouhamadou Gueye and Horton combined to score 10 points in a row for the Panthers and brought them within two of the Hurricanes with 14:22 left in the period. But less than three minutes of game time later, Gueye ran to the locker room with his right arm dangling at the side.

Capel said after the game that Gueye sprained his right wrist when he drove down the lane, drew a hard foul and landed on his hand. He eventually returned to the game and started the second half, but after scoring eight points in the game’s first nine minutes, he scored just three over its final 20.

Capel acknowledged how important Gueye is to Pitt, especially on defense, but added that his absence is far from the only reason Pitt lost.

“We’re a different team when he’s out of the game for us,” Capel said. “He can protect the basket, he can space it on offense. … So we’re a different basketball team. That was a big blow for us, but they were [driving] down hill even before that.”

The Panthers have now followed up their best stretch of the season — a three-game win streak spanning 10 days from Feb. 9 to 19 — with two profoundly disappointing losses, and the road does not get much easier, with first place Duke and second place Notre Dame left on the schedule.

The only small respite that Pitt gets before welcoming the ACC’s leading No. 7 Blue Devils in one week are those five days off in between matchups. Capel and company will welcome his alma mater next Tuesday at 8 p.m, for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last conference road game before retirement.