So how does one outshoot their opponent 44% to 38%, win the rebounding battle by double digits, play to a virtual tie in the turnover battle, hold three of a team's five starters scoreless, and still lose a game?
In case you've ever wondered, you had a front row seat tonight in Pitt's ugly 70-67 loss to Virginia Tech. The answer, as we found out, is to miss free throws while allowing a team to knock down 12 three-pointers. The Panthers couldn't stop Virginia Tech from long range and were a poor 9-17 from the free throw line.
Bench scoring, of course, was a huge disparity with the Hokies winning that battle 55-10. But in the grand scheme of things, that really wasn't the biggest problem of the ones I mentioned since Virginia Tech's starters did so little. Really, it doesn't matter where the points come from and while the Hokies had three starters that were scoreless, those guys also played an average of fewer than eight minutes per game. But yeah, allowing their two guards to post career games didn't help matters.
Pitt's defense was an issue. Who scored the points? To me, not so much.
Here's the thing - Pitt actually did enough to win. After all, they've looked far worse than they did tonight and come out with wins. They shot pretty well, went hard on the boards, and got some strong performances from guys individually. But it was a perfect example of why you need to play every single part of the game well. Failing at even one thing like free throws or facing such a disparity in three-point shots makes it possible to lose a game.
A lot is going to be made of the Hokies' three-point shots, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to credit kids for making them. The shot at the end of regulation was a ridiculous shot. Not grabbing the rebound hurt, but focusing purely on the shot attempt, it was just something that was one of those crazy things we see happen to Pitt far too often. Don't get me wrong - there were plenty of defensive breakdowns during the game at defending Virginia Tech beyond the arc. But sometimes, there was just nothing the team could have done any better in some circumstances - just a case of some really hot shooting and Pitt was on the wrong end of it.
Part of it, too, was Pitt's utter refusal to go for the kill. Pitt had plenty of chances to put the game out of reach and they didn't do it. They were up by six with a little over 13 minutes left in the game and trailed a few minutes later. They were up by seven with under three to play and couldn't hold that lead, either. Even in overtime when they were up two early and after a stop, got Chris Jones to the line, they blew a chance to get it to four when he missed both free throws.
There's really just no reason for any of that. This was a must-win of sorts and to have numerous leads throughout the course of the game but not be able to put things out of reach is just pretty bad.
Sticking with that theme of sitting back and coasting, Pitt was not nearly aggressive as they needed to be. That's evidenced by the four (count 'em, four) free throws they had in the final 20 minutes of the game counting the overtime period. We can debate how much getting to the line would have helped since they flubbed so many of them, but you have to find a way to get to the line.
Earlier today, I wrote about Pitt's NCAA chances still being alive and well with so many games left. Technically, that may still be true but there's no denying that those hopes took a massive nosedive tonight. Pitt hasn't shown any ability to beat the top teams on its schedule, so at a minimum, you've got to beat the bad teams.
That didn't happen and the Panthers continue to prove while they have a lot of work to do.
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