The Panthers opened play in the ACC Tournament tonight and beat Boston College in convincing fashion, winning 80-70. Pitt will now take on Syracuse on Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m.
The Panthers (14-18) could muster only four points in the first six minutes and combined that with four or five turnovers and a shot clock violation. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. Pitt grabbed a lead and pushed it to 15 at the half after a dismal offensive performance by Boston College (14-17). Pitt opened that lead up even a bit more in the second half before holding on for the win.
Boston College is a bad team. Let’s get out of the way. But Pitt isn’t a good team, either, and these guys deserve the credit for not only competing in this game but dominating most of it. It would have been just as easy to let the slow start get them down and turn this into a slugfest that came down to the wire. Instead, the team rallied and broke away for a rather easy win.
For Pitt, it was a return to some of their earlier games. The Panthers were led by freshmen Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, who both had big nights, combining for 49 points on 14-28 shooting, led by McGowens’ 26. 19 of those combined points for the duo came at the free throw line. Jared Wilson-Frame added 16 points and nine boards, and it was great to see Pitt get a tournament win to advance, even if their stay may not be particularly long-lived.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me was just the confidence with which the team played on offense. Even in the last win against Notre Dame, you didn’t see them open up nearly as much on offense as they did tonight. But I’m going to shelve that for a few minutes to look at an interesting graphic.
So look, we’ve talked a lot this season about the team’s inability to shoot anything beyond a layup. The Panthers have gotten some help from Wilson-Frame beyond the arc but largely try to do their damage in the paint. But, holy cow, even I remain surprised at seeing shot charts like these from tonight. Pitt is the blue, obviously, and if you’re unfamiliar with these charts, the filled in circles are made shots.
Now, the missed/made shots aren’t even all that relevant here. What is relevant is where those shots are taken — especially compared to their opponent. Notice anything? Everything’s basically right at the bucket or a hail Mary, so to speak, even if they’re not real effective back there. Boston College, like most teams, I imagine, takes a much more balanced approach.
The perimeter shooting is clearly the team’s fatal flaw and this is a pretty good example of how hard the team will work to avoid the mid-range jumper. Typically, that’s a problem. But if the offense plays with confidence, how the game otherwise unfolds can be quite different from what we’ve seen for much of the ACC season.
As they proved tonight, when the offense is going well, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to step up and start knocking down jumpers. But what they will do is find ways to get into the paint, play a little more loose, and just let their athleticism sort of take over. That also includes getting the foul line as a result, which is a big part of their offense since they have such difficult shooting the ball most of the time. Tonight they got to the line 32 times.
Pitt just played with all kinds of confidence in this game. I don’t know what the post-game interviews will be like but if that theme doesn’t come up, I’d be surprised. A perfect example of that was Trey McGowens. McGowens had an early look at a three-pointer in the first half. Completely wide open and he passed the ball anyway. He later picked up a layup and found himself beyond the arc again. That time he took (and made) a more difficult three-pointer.
I’m not saying I want McGowens out there bombing from long range. I don’t. He’s like a 32% shooter from three-point range. But it’s amazing what a few easy buckets can do for guys’ confidence.
And, similarly, I’m not saying Pitt can get by just fine without being better at shooting the ball. Pitt doesn’t have the tools needed to really compete against good teams and a win against one of the worst teams in the conference doesn’t change that. They’re not generally going to beat good teams unless they shoot as well as they did from the field tonight and get a few things to break their way.
But as they showed tonight, they are plenty capable of beating the lesser ACC teams (and even of competing against better ones) if they get a little bit of confidence and don’t sleepwalk and go through the motions on offense. A lot of movement tonight on offense, getting guys into some open space, getting to the foul line — that went a long way tonight. Some of that, I’m certain, is on the opponent, who let Pitt get into the paint at will. But some of it is certainly on the assertiveness of the guys in the blue and gold, too.
Bring on the Orange-type people or something.