Stagnant offense contributes to loss in first ACC game


RALEIGH, NC — A complete lack of offense doomed the Pitt men’s basketball team to its worst-ever ACC defeat in terms of margin as it began conference play.

“When you play on the road, you gotta play with more energy, you gotta play with more intensity, you gotta execute that much better than you would at home,” sophomore Michael Young said.

Pitt didn’t do any of those things when opening its second ACC season the same way as the first: against NC State at PNC Arena. Instead, the Panthers put forth their worst offensive performance of the season on Saturday, losing 68-50.

Fifty points is the lowest score Pitt has accrued this season.  And the place where this poor showing was most evident was in the paint, which the hosts dominated, outscoring Pitt 36 to 14.

Young, who finished with 10 points, found himself double teamed by NC State (11-4, 2-0 ACC) throughout whenever he was in or near the paint. So Pitt’s primary inside presence at six-foot-nine said he often had no option but to kick it out to the perimeter.

“If they’re doubling me or doubling Jamel [Artis], and our guards can’t really get it going, it compacts the defense even more. More guys in the lane,” he said.

The team finished having made just 33 percent of its shots — also a season low — on 18 of 55 attempts.

Despite these troubles, the Panthers (10-4, 0-1 ACC) led early by containing the hosts’ attack. At one point, they possessed a 6-1 advantage and led for three and a half minutes.

But a NC State substitution of the two players Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman who coach Mark Gottfried called his best post defenders spurred a 12-0 Wolfpack run and began a suffocation of the visitors’ offense that would continue until the final buzzer.

The seismic shift in the game’s dynamic surprised Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon.

“It looked like we were ready,” Dixon said. “Then it just seemed to get away from us.”

With the paint not bearing any results, Pitt needed to rely on 3-pointers to stay in the game but ended the opening period having missed all five tries.

The issues worsened after halftime, which Pitt entered trailing 27-20. This surprised Dixon, who thought the players understood what they needed to do and was heartened by the team’s ability to erase an eight-point halftime deficit in the same building last year en route to a victory.

Artis, a six-foot-seven sophomore, led all scorers with eight points at the break, but would score just five more the rest of the game to finish with a team-high 13.

He explained his and the team’s struggles down to an inability to stay calm in the face of the Wolfpack’s defense which forced them into to extend possessions deep in the 35-second shot clock. Under these constraints, Pitt recorded one shot clock violation.

“Guys got too impatient on the offensive end,” Artis said. “We rushed a lot of shots.”

A product of that panic was NC State’s blocking nine shots- a season high.

Pitt began to make shots late, but the gap was too great — as large as 21 with 6:50 to go — to shrink, let alone overcome.

“Their guys played harder than us,” Artis said.

Note: Freshman Cameron Johnson did not play due to a shoulder injury. After the game, Dixon said there hasn’t been an improvement in his condition, despite rest, and did not have a timetable for his return.