What a difference a game makes.
I use that phrase a lot, but it was really applicable tonight. After several lackluster performances against Samford, Hawaii, and last night, San Diego State, Pitt wasn't quite left for dead, but there was a considerable amount of angst over the state of the team (and even, by some, the program as a whole). Everything's not quite right in the world just yet, but Pitt calmed some of those fears with a 70-47 win over Kansas State on Wednesday night. With the victory, the Panthers took third in the Maui Invitational.
James Robinson continued his scoring outburst (more on this later on), leading the team with 14 points, and he was an extremely efficient 4-5 from the field. The Panthers have had different guys step up from the bench and tonight it was Ryan Luther. The true freshman appeared to be a redshirt candidate but he's not only playing, but, as he showed tonight, he can be a key contributor. He knocked down three of his four three-point shots and had 13 points. Luther gives the team a threat from beyond the arc and, as we all know, that's something this team desperately needs.
Pitt just looked like Pitt again - and that was refreshing. The defense was strong, as they held Kansas State to 47 points. Even looking beyond the final tally and the 15 turnovers they caused, the Panthers were just more active on D. You saw a lot more aggression, I thought, and they just didn't give things up easily. In part of the San Diego State game, there was a look of disinterest after they fell behind and you didn't see that tonight.
Pitt also didn't turn the ball all that much on offense. Ten isn't incredibly low, but it's far less than the 17-18 or so against San Diego State. The Panthers were also scoring easier on offensive and getting better shots. That was a result of better passing and not only did Pitt have 17 assists, several of them were extraordinary. Jamel Artis, for example, had at least two really nice dishes that resulted in wide open layups for teammates.
When Pitt is doing that sort of thing, the game just gets a lot easier. Easy buckets increase the confidence level and just as importantly, the players aren't expending all kinds of unnecessary energy at that end. And this may be overgeneralizing a tad, but when you get easy buckets on offense, there's more energy left for defense.
Keeping things in the proper context, the third place finish shouldn't be taken too seriously. The rash judgment would be to look at the field that included many quality programs and be content with the finish. However, getting Chaminade in the first round assured the Panthers of a finish no worse than fourth place, really, and they needed to beat only a single D-I team to take third - everyone else would have needed two to do so.
In addition, Kansas State isn't a Top 25 team by any means. They fared well earlier in Maui, but also lost to Long Beach State by nine this season. This should be a good win by the end of the season, but it may not be a significant resume builder.
Still, that's not to diminish what Pitt did in the event - particularly tonight. They had a difficult matchup against the Aztecs but rebounded extremely well to beat a decent Kansas State team that beat Purdue and pushed Arizona to the limit. They not only won, but did so in dominant fashion. Few could have predicted the Panthers knocking off the Wildcats so easily after the past few games and the win gives the team a little momentum leaving Hawaii.
The result of the entire event wasn't completely ideal and a trip to the finals to face Arizona was the goal. But after a 23-point win to beat a decent program, it's really hard to complain all that much without sounding like a jerk.
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