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9-year-old boy who caught McCutchen’s 300th HR reveals significant milestones of his own
9-year-old boy who caught McCutchen’s 300th HR reveals significant milestones of his own
By Aidan Kasner, Senior Staff Writer • 7:31 pm

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9-year-old boy who caught McCutchen’s 300th HR reveals significant milestones of his own
9-year-old boy who caught McCutchen’s 300th HR reveals significant milestones of his own
By Aidan Kasner, Senior Staff Writer • 7:31 pm

Pitt men’s basketball must recover to save tournament hopes

Pitt+passes+the+ball+in+front+of+senior+forward+Blake+Hinson+%282%29+during+Pitt+mens+basketballs+game+against+Canisius+on+Dec.+9%2C+2023.
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
Pitt passes the ball in front of senior forward Blake Hinson (2) during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Canisius on Dec. 9, 2023.

Pitt men’s basketball (18-10, 9-8 ACC) fell to the Clemson Tigers (20-8, 10-7 ACC) 69-62. As a matchup of two NCAA tournament hopefuls, the game served as a significant opportunity for either squad to bolster their tournament resumes. 

Tuesday’s contest felt like a classic March Madness matchup. It featured far from perfect play — however, the desperation was palpable. With 13 lead changes and five ties, Pitt and Clemson fans alike remained at the edge of their seats until the final minutes of play.

Ultimately, the Tigers prevailed, securing their place on the right side of the bubble. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ tournament hopes went on life support, as they momentarily fell out of the NCAA tournament bubble picture. 

“It was a heck of a game,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “They ramped up how physical they were, and we weren’t able to play through that. I thought my team fought. We put ourselves in a position where we had an opportunity, but they made more plays than us.”

If the Panthers plan to finish the season strong or claw their way back into the NCAA Tournament bubble they must quickly learn from their mistakes, as they’ve exhausted their margin for error.

Blake Hinson needs consistent support 

Anyone who’s seen any game from the season can tell you the leader of the Panthers. Senior forward Blake Hinson’s mentality, leadership and electricity define the 2024 Pitt men’s basketball team. And after his 41-point master class versus Louisville, the secret spread across the country. Teams know to defend Hinson starting at the logo. They learned to throw doubled-teams at him or risk him single-handedly willing the Panthers to victory. 

Clemson’s defense showed opponents the blueprint for shutting down the Panthers. They threw double teams, screens and physical defense at Hinson all night. Impressively, they completely neutralized Hinson, holding him to two baskets on nine attempts. Hinson vanished down the stretch, failing to make a field goal in the final 13 minutes of the game.

The Tigers deserve credit for their effective defensive game plan. However, Pitt cannot allow this to happen again. The Panthers need to create consistent scoring threats across the court. If teams decide to focus on Hinson, the rest of the team must make them regret it.

Junior guard Ishmael Leggett and first-year guard Carlton “Bub” Carrington shined in moments, yet needed more consistency to free up Hinson, most notably when Carrington scored six straight Pitt points to bring the Panthers within one with under two minutes to go.

Pitt’s struggles did not result from a lack of effort. The Panthers created many open looks throughout the game. Junior forward Zack Austin and sophomore forward Guillermo Diaz Graham both had multiple open looks from three, but only shot a combined 2-for-9.

Capitalizing on Early Defensive Success

Especially early in the contest, Pitt played exceptionally defensively. As a team, they forced 11 turnovers and combined for five steals. For comparison, the Tigers forced two turnovers and recorded one steal on the night. For the first 15-plus minutes of the night, Clemson failed to reach 20 points.

Meanwhile, Pitt only managed 25 points of their own in that time frame. Many of their offensive errors came unforced, as they rushed into poor decisions. On other drives they simply failed to convert, missing eight dunks and layups in the first half alone. 

In the second half, the Panthers’ defense faltered. Clemson’s physicality and stamina outlasted Pitt’s best efforts. Capel attributed the differences between halves to the Tigers’ experience.

“They have some older guys, bigger guys. They’re really strong and they did a good job of knocking us off at times, being really physical — literally knocking us down,” Capel said. “On their screens, cross screens, there was one at the end of the game where Federiko was on the ground. We have to be able to, as much as we can, fight through that.”

The Panthers consistently fail to win the physicality matchup against teams like the Tigers. Over the final few games of the campaign, Pitt cannot change what has been apparent all season. Late in games, Diaz Graham and junior center Federiko Federiko struggled to match the strength and endurance of more experienced big men. On the night, they combined for two points and eight fouls. 

However, Pitt still knows a solution. If they capitalize on the team’s early defensive success, the Panthers can still find alternative ways to win, while preserving Diaz Graham and Federiko’s stamina.

Don’t count out the Panthers yet

Despite overreactions on social media from losing this “must-win” contest, Pitt still deserves fans’ faith. Do not forget the challenges this team already overcame in 2024. Some prematurely declared Pitt’s postseason hopes finished after an ugly 69-58 home loss to Syracuse. 

Pitt responded in a dramatic fashion, winning seven of their next eight ACC games while silencing their critics. They beat Duke 80-76 in Chapel Hill and took down Virginia 74-63 in Charlottesville.

Making the tournament for a second consecutive year appears unlikely to happen, requiring an equally excellent stretch of play. However, the Panthers already proved they play their best basketball with their backs against the wall. Many fans may already count them out, but confidence in the locker room remains high.

“I know what we can do,” Carrington said. “I know that we can build on any given night. I’m not worried at all. This was just another learning lesson.”

About the Contributor
Alex Porter, Staff Writer