If you enjoy close games with plenty of intrigue, you couldn’t have been more content with tonight’s Pitt-Louisville game. It was close throughout, had late gaffes, and a lot of ups and downs. But if you were watching as a Pitt fan, you probably have an additional gray hair or two. In the end, though, the Panthers (11-4) held on for a 89-86 win. It’s the team’s first ACC victory since March 7, 2017 when the team defeated Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament. Louisville falls to 10-5 on the season.
I’d love to hear from a few of you in the comments if you happened to be there. It wasn’t a sellout crowd or anything but there were times it felt like the ‘old’ Pete in the Howland/Dixon years when the team dominated at home. The atmosphere seemed pretty good and, at times, downright raucous.
The story of tonight, other than ending the winless ACC streak, was obviously the play of freshman Trey McGowens. Xavier Johnson and his 21 points and ten assists can’t be overlooked. But McGowens was the brightest star with a career-high and Pitt freshman record of 33 points, breaking the former record of Clyde Vaughan. When you look back over the history of the program with so many great players, that’s just a tremendous accomplishment.
McGowens has drawn my ire at times this year for his out of control play when driving to the basket. But when those shots fall, it’s something to see. McGowens, of course, did more than simply drive to the basket — he was simply all over the court. He had three steals, two assists, and his six rebounds actually led the team. He also had a crucial breakaway basket late in the game. Just a really big game and you couldn’t be happier for him.
So those are the big stories but a few other things are worth pointing out here.
First, absolutely do not overlook the job Terrell Brown did in the middle — particularly in the second half. Brown finished with 11 points, five rebounds, and five blocks, and was a beast down the stretch. Okay, ‘beast’ may be too strong a word but he put together a solid game. Pitt’s real weakness, as we know, is in the frontcourt. But if they can get games like this out of Brown, this goes from a somewhat dangerous team to one that will be a real threat to not only win but pull off an upset or two. Losing him at the end was a real problem and that was especially the case after Pitt lost Kene Chukwuka.
Furthering that last point, the depth tonight also underscores just how big a problem it is to lose guys like Peace Ilegomah and Shamiel Stevenson. Those guys didn’t play big minutes this season before they left but now that they’re gone, Pitt’s options are very limited. The Panthers’ ‘big men’ late in the game were 6’6” Malik Ellison and 6’6” Au’Diese Toney. Stevenson, of course, was only 6’6” himself but was also an inside threat and, of course, Ilegomah was 6’9”. Those losses in the middle of the season are not real great for a team that can get very thin in a hurry if guys have foul trouble.
Second, Pitt really struggled down the stretch to beat back Louisville. The Cardinals got to within three at one point after Pitt had a double-digit lead and Pitt immediately got several buckets and pushed the lead back up. But they couldn’t hold off the second run and that sent it to overtime. That sort of stuff is going to happen when you’ve got such an inexperienced team, unfortunately. Frustrating, but just kind of the way it is.
Finally, note that this team really and truly belongs to the freshmen. Johnson, McGowens, and Toney have already provided a lot of evidence for that but it was even more evident tonight.
You can look at the box score a million different ways and see all kinds of interesting things tonight. But one thing that really jumped out at me was that Jared Wilson-Frame had only eight shots. That’s a perfectly reasonable number, mind you. But this was the kind of game where, in the past, you wouldn’t blink an eye if he took 20 shots. McGowens and Johnson took 34 shots tonight and it’s nice to get those guys more looks as they’re where the future of this team is. They will make mistakes and, at times, shoot too much. But this season is a virtual throwaway to me. You expect the losses and wins will be bonuses. I want those guys getting experience and handling the ball in crunch time above most everything else.
I’m real happy with this win. And keep in mind that while Pitt looked pretty good, they didn’t come even close to playing a perfect game. Louisville outrebounded the Panthers, 41-31. And the biggest problem, of course, was from the free throw line where Pitt shot only 48.5%, making 16 of 33. You shoot that poorly from the stripe and you really put yourself in danger of a loss. Bottom line is that Pitt is really fortunate to walk away with this win. And while you might not be particularly pleased about how they almost gave this one away, to win it while missing 17 free throws tells you how well they played in other aspects.
The game was very encouraging after what we saw against North Carolina. Things got away from Pitt pretty quickly in that one and the result was an ugly loss. You really wanted to see them come out and be much more competitive tonight, and they were.
My guess is that this isn’t the last ACC win we’ll see from these guys this year. Really nice to get this victory before facing three ranked teams (No. 15 NC State, No. 13 Florida State, and No. 1 Duke) over the next four games.
Let’s get a few more, shall we?