Women’s Basketball: Panthers fall to James Madison by double digits

Redshirt freshman center Bubbles Anderson won the opening tip on Wednesday night with relative ease.

As much is expected from the 6-foot-11-inch center. Nine seconds later, she converted the first bucket of the game, a layup at the rim that even Lamar Patterson might envy. 

A similar highlight occurred on multiple occasions Wednesday night, but the rest of the contest did not go as planned for the point-thirsty Panthers, as they fell to James Madison 71-61.

The Pitt (4-4) offense struggled mightily in the first half, posting only 28 points.

The lack of execution on the offensive end is becoming a dangerous trend for this squad.

The team has now failed to score more than 30 points in five of the eight first halves it has played, forcing themselves to yet again attempt to come back in the second half.

James Madison (6-2) senior guard Kirby Burkholder, pegged as the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year and named to the Naismith Award watch list, was as advertised and ripped the Panthers for 14 points and 7 rebounds in addition to creating countless other chances for teammates off the dribble.

Despite the poor first-half performance, the Panthers emerged from halftime facing just a two-point deficit. But a 6-2 James Madison run in the opening minutes of the second half slowed any hopes of a Pitt victory.

After a Frederique Potvin three-point shot narrowed the JMU lead to just six with 14:31 to go, Burkholder led the Dukes on an 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 52-38 with 11 minutes remaining. The Dukes led by at least 10 points for the rest of the game.

Junior forward Toia Giggetts paced James Madison with 23 points.

The built-up frustration from Pitt’s poor performance on Sunday versus Buffalo coupled with the team’s performance Wednesday boiled over on the sideline, as first-year head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio vocally expressed her discontent with both her players and the officials.

“What I said to our players is that I don’t accept losing, never have,” McConnell-Serio said. “For some reason we get in our own little world out there, we made mistakes and didn’t execute things we wanted to do in our game plan.“

The Dukes’ pressure-packed defense stood as a large barrier, as they prevented the Panthers from establishing any sort of flow on offense, something McConnell-Serio said is a must in her up-tempo system.

“Sometimes we get stagnant when they take away our first or second option,” McConnell-Serio said. “In the second half, we started standing around and not creating opportunities. You are too easy to defend if you are standing five players on the perimeter with no cutting or screening. I think once we got tired, that started to happen.”

Anderson put it plain and simple: This team needs to play with an edge that it has been lacking for some time.

“We need to come out with more fight and more intensity,” she said.

Pitt knew coming in that it would face a formidable opponent in James Madison, as the Dukes had already taken down Virginia and UCLA by double-digit margins earlier this season.

Junior guard Brianna Kiesel said the matchup with a high-quality opponent was one the Panthers talked about beforehand as a potential ego-booster if they could pull out the win.

“We knew they were a very good team, and it would have been a very good win,” Kiesel said. “I thought we did a lot of good things, we just have to do better.”

Kiesel led the Panthers with 15 points.

The Panthers return to action Saturday when they travel to Staten Island, N.Y., to face nonconference foe Wagner. Following the Wagner game, the Panthers return home to play Old Dominion on Dec. 15 before embarking on a trip to Las Vegas for Duel in the Desert, a three-game swing that will pit them against DePaul, Louisiana-Monroe and Washington over a three-day span.