Going into halftime, the Pitt basketball team held all of the momentum. After facing varying deficits, the Panthers pulled within two at the break.
But four minutes into the second half, it was clear that all momentum was lost, as the Virginia Cavaliers (19-4, 8-3 ACC) constructed a game deciding 12-0 run to lead it to 64-50 win over Pitt (17-5, 6-4 ACC) at the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon.
When Pitt gets down, it’s become apparent that it force its hand, which limits its effectiveness in a variety of ways, Jamel Artis said.
“We’ve just got to learn to control when we’re we down,” Artis said. “When we get down, we try to force shots, we get carried away, get hyped up and turn it over and don’t get back on defense.”
Still, this was a game — despite some runs by Pitt — that often wasn’t in doubt for Virginia. With smothering defense and well-executed offense, the Cavaliers were clearly the superior team most of the game. They shot 48 percent from the field and 9-16 from three, as compared to Pitt’s 39 percent field goal percentage.
It wasn’t exactly a winning formula for the Panthers, according to Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon
“You can’t let teams go 9-16 [from three], 50 percent from the field and expect to beat a good defensive team at the same time,” Dixon said.
Immediately, Pitt faced an 8-2 deficit in the first three minutes, mostly due to loose defense. Pitt would bring itself back, eventually taking an 11-10 lead off a slick drive and layup by Mike Young.
But Virginia would answer quickly, going on an 11-2 run to take a 21-13 lead. Malcolm Brogdon was particularly effective in the run, as the senior guard collected six points and frustrated Pitt’s defenders off the dribble. The capper of the run — a wide open three from Evan Nolte at the top of the key — forced Dixon to call a timeout.
Brogdon finished with 21 points on the game, shooting 6-9 from the field and 3-5 from three. Virginia head coach Tony Bennett praised Brogdon’s knowingness on when to get aggressive and when to be more patient.
“He’s efficient,” Bennett said. “We’re getting him good looks and he’s making good decisions.”
With a little over five minutes in the half, Artis knocked down a three at the end of the shot clock to pull Pitt within three, 24-21. But a layup by Mike Tobey and a three from London Perrantes shortly after gave the Cavaliers an 8-point lead.
Pitt struggled in the first half to contain Virginia offense, which regularly beat Panther defenders off the dribble, finishing inside and dishing out for open threes.
But thanks to the slow paced nature of the game, along with some strong play by Artis, Pitt only trailed 29-27 at the half.
At the break, Artis had 13 points on 5-6 shooting. Several of those baskets came near the end of the shot clock, when the junior forward was able to bail out Pitt in possessions which looked bound to stall out. Artis would collect four more after the break, for 17 total points in the game.
Meanwhile, Pitt’s leading scorer on the year, Young, struggled to find any rhythm, being constantly double teamed, while also often forcing deep jumpers.
“We did a good job of not giving him easy looks,” Bennett said. “When you’re going against a player that’s playing as well as he is, you have to try to, at times, try to get the ball out of his hands or make him see a crowd.”
The start of the second was much like the first half, with the Cavaliers offensively dominating Pitt. Though two straight baskets by Sheldon Jeter tied the score at 31-31, Virginia rattled off three straight threes, along with a converted layup by Devon Hall despite a foul to take a 43-31 lead a little over four minutes into the half.
It was exactly what Dixon didn’t want to see, especially against a team like Virginia, which slows the pace and makes it tough for its opposition to come back from a deficit.
“We preached it, we talked about. Don’t get down, don’t get in that situation and we did,” Dixon said.
The run in itself was a twofer of disappointments for Dixon, as it came largely as a result of poor defense from Pitt. As much as he preaches defense and would like his team to get better, it comes as no surprise, as Pitt has struggled on that end all season.
“I was concerned in November and October and September. It’s no secret to me,” Dixon said.
Whether it were turnovers, strong Virginia defense or missed shots, Pitt couldn’t bring itself back into the game. At the TV timeout with 7:39 remaining in the game, Virginia led 53-38. Marial Shayok was key in the Cavaliers continuing to build on their lead, regularly disrupting Pitt’s ball handlers with tight defense and finishing open shots in transition and in half court.
Pitt will return to play Tuesday, when it travels to Coral Gables to face off against Miami at 7 p.m. In the practices leading up to the game, Dixon will hope to right some of the wrongs which ailed it against Virginia.
“It’s just disappointing to play like we did,” Dixon said. “We’ve got play better, we’ve got to get better for Miami.”