Panthers lose heartbreaker despite season high in shots


By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

If the heavy winds surrounding Ambrose Urbanic Field Tuesday were an ominous sign for the Pitt Panthers, they didn’t know it at the time. Kevin Murray and the Pitt men’s soccer team expected to score a regulation goal on Howard, which had not shut out an opponent all season — until Tuesday night.

A late extra-time goal by Howard gave the Bison their first win of the season against the Panthers, which has now lost four straight games since Oct. 4. The 1-0 defeat was Pitt’s fifth shutout loss this season.

Pitt (3-7-3 overall, 0-4-1 ACC) pressured Howard early, attempting to maintain possession in Howard’s defensive zone. Looking at just the stat sheet, it seemed like Pitt blew out its previously winless opponent, as the Panthers led the game in shots (25-12), shots on goal (9-3) and corner kicks (12-2).

“When you keep wasting opportunities, it catches up with you,” Pitt head coach Joe Luxbacher said. “It’s a difficult loss. We deserved to win on the run of play, but we didn’t.”

Howard’s goal came in the 105th minute of play, when freshman midfielder Stephen Douba crossed the ball into the middle of the box to a wide-open McKinley Smith, who corralled the ball and calmly shot it into the bottom-right corner of the net, where Pitt goalkeeper Dan Lynd had no chance to save it.

“There were three guys unmarked in the middle,” said Lynd, who recorded two saves in the game. “He could have walked his dog, he could have done anything he wanted and he tucked it away.”

The game started out back-and-forth with neither team able to establish any offensive rhythm. Howard’s (1-11-2 overall, 0-0-1 MEAC) best chance in the first half came in the 21st minute, when freshman forward Nigel Grant broke free and had a wide-open shot on net, but his shot deflected off the crossbar.

Pitt stormed down on a breakaway one minute later, and freshman forward Kevin Angulo took the team’s first shot on goal of the night, but Howard goalkeeper Eric Hamilton blocked the shot low and away from the box.

The heavy wind blowing around Ambrose Urbanic Field influenced some decisions by both teams. Howard had an early free kick from about 25 yards out, and the Bison attempted a short cross pass instead of a direct shot on goal because of possible concerns about the wind taking the ball away from its destination on a longer shot.

Pitt’s best first-half chance came late in the half on another corner kick. Sophomore midfielder Kevin Murray made a nice foot flick on goal off a corner kick by Hamish Law, which required a quick reaction from Hamilton.

“As the game went on, it was just like every little thing was not going our way,” Murray said. “I got in behind the defense, looked like the easiest finish of my life and then as I shoot, a defender’s foot hits my foot and it just shanks wide . . . it just got frustrating.”

Pitt’s 25 shots in the game are the most the team took so far this season, and the nine corner kicks are tied for second-most this year. The shot total is also Pitt’s second-most since 2001. Ironically, the team’s most shots within that span came last year, also against Howard, when Pitt recorded 38 shots and nine goals.

Despite several late opportunities, Pitt went into halftime with the score tied at 0-0.

“In the first half, we had too many needless negative passes, we were stripped in the middle third of the field,” Luxbacher said. “In the second half we adjusted, but it shouldn’t even need to be an adjustment . . . it was always that the final pass wasn’t there.”

Hamilton, who averaged about six saves per game for Howard coming into Tuesday night, made eight on the Panthers. Pitt came out in the second half aggressively, resulting in six offsides penalties called against the team.

The rain picked up in the last quarter, just as the game started to see more fouls and bookings given. Howard’s Raynard Storey picked up the team’s fourth yellow card of the game as the weather deteriorated.

“The chippiness wasn’t really getting to any of us, it was just them,” Murray said. “They were just exhausted and late going into tackles, and we wanted to just push, and unfortunately we couldn’t get it.”

Law demonstrated Pitt’s offensive frustration pretty effectively in the 75th minute when freshman midfielder Darcy Bloemen sent a cross out of bounds, and Law kicked the ball hard against the wall after it had already gone out.

With only three minutes remaining in regulation, Angulo beat a Howard player in a footrace to the ball, and he could have had a clean look at a goal if the Howard defender didn’t pull Angulo down by his shirt. The play resulted in a free kick for the Panthers, which they missed wide right.

Despite some strong late efforts and many fouls, Pitt and Howard still went to extra time after a scoreless regulation.

The Bison took three shots on goal in the game: one in the very first minute of regulation and one in the first minute of extra time. The latter goal won them the game.

The Panthers, who have not yet won a conference game this season, and have now lost four straight, play next at Virginia Tech on Friday night at 7 p.m.

“We just have to forget about the result and come with the fire,” Murray said. “We have to do the little things right and put our chances away, because we’ll get chances against Virginia Tech, for sure.”