Men’s Basketball: Mired in three-game losing skid, Pitt takes on Boston College


By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

The Boston College Eagles are in second-to-last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, just one game ahead of cellar-dwelling Virginia Tech. But while they’ve won only three conference games this season, the Eagles accomplished something that the Pitt Panthers couldn’t do in two attempts: defeat Syracuse. 

On Wednesday, the fifth-place Panthers (20-7, 8-6 ACC) travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to face the 14th-place Eagles (7-20, 3-11 ACC). The Panthers are looking to end their three-game losing streak with their NCAA Tournament hopes in increasing peril. 

For head coach Jamie Dixon, the matchup presents an opportunity for his Panthers to begin correcting the errors that have plagued them for the last month. 

“We have to go get it right against Boston College,” Dixon said after Sunday’s game. “We need to work on our execution, work on our patience and play better.” 

Boston College visited then-No. 1 Syracuse on Feb. 19 and left the Carrier Dome with a 62-59 overtime win, becoming the first team to finally clip the Orange in late-game scenarios. On the other hand, Pitt lost to the Orange each time the teams played, and Syracuse closed each victory with a 10-2 run despite the Panthers leading each game with minutes remaining.

Following the Syracuse loss, the Panthers dropped a road contest at North Carolina in which redshirt senior forward Lamar Patterson and redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright struggled with foul trouble. Eight days later, Pitt returned home and lost to Florida State on Sunday

Pitt has lost five of its past seven games and is 4-6 in its last 10 contests. But the Panthers still own more conference wins than the Eagles have totaled between league and non-conference play.

While beating a team such as Boston College won’t do much to help the Panthers get off the bubble, a loss would be debilitating to Pitt’s chances.

“We know what we are here to do, make the NCAA Tournament,” Dixon said. “We have put ourselves in a pretty good position, now we have lost three in a row. You can only take so many losses.”

The Panthers will enter the Silvio O. Conte Forum as favorites tonight, but both team’s recent results — Pitt mired in a slump, Boston College proving it can hold its ground against the best — indicate nothing is a guarantee, especially if the Panthers continue shooting as poorly as they did against Florida State. 

They shot just 37 percent from the field and 64.3 percent from the free-throw line. But the misfirings are just one issue Patterson has seen during Pitt’s recent struggles.

“Our defense, rebounding and our shots haven’t been falling,” he said. “When we fix all of that, we will start winning again.”

Olivier Hanlan leads Boston College into action with his average of 18 points per game, which also ranks third in the ACC. Hanlan scored 20 points in the win over Syracuse, but followed that win with an 11-point performance in a 27-point loss to Miami in the Eagles’ last game.

Patterson ranks just below Hanlan in the league’s scoring ranks at 17.2 points per game and posted 22 points in the Panthers five-point loss to the Seminoles. Of his 22 total points, 16 came in the final 2:56 as Patterson made four 3-pointers to keep Pitt close before he fouled out.

The redshirt senior from Lancaster, Pa., also leads the team in passing with 4.4 assists per game.

But, the ACC Player of the Year candidate has struggled lately mostly because of an injured right hand, which has been taped for the past four games. Since the Panthers lost to Duke on Jan. 27, Patterson is averaging just more than 15 points per game on 31 percent shooting in seven games. 

Next to Patterson, redshirt senior center Talib Zanna leads the Panthers in rebounding at 8.1 boards per game and is scoring 12.2 points per game. Like Patterson, though, Zanna has also struggled lately. 

Zanna, who has shot 54.9 percent from the field so far this season, has made just one-third of his field goals in his past seven games (16-for-48) and has topped double-digit scoring just three times. In the first 20 games of the season, Zanna failed to reach the double-digit plateau just three times and, at one point, scored 10 or more in nine consecutive games. 

Behind Zanna and Patterson’s offensive struggles, the Panthers have struggled as a unit. Against Florida State, Pitt made only 20 field goals and missed 10 free throws. 

After witnessing and being a part of performances like Pitt’s on Sunday, Wright said he thinks the Panthers might be beating themselves at times, especially on the offensive end.

“The game is simple,” Wright said. “We are making it difficult on ourselves and taking tougher shots.”

But while players such as Wright and Patterson have seen the downsides, they still have hope. Patterson, who has struggled as much as any Panther recently, still said he isn’t as worried about Pitt’s postseason chances as bracketologists seem to be.

“I think we will get it done,” Patterson said. “We signed up for the pressure, and we will be fine when we get the next four wins and wins in the ACC Tournament. We know what we have to do.”