Above is just a little snippet of what Pitt PG Trey McGowens is capable of. Pitt defeated Robert Morris University last night in what started out as a close game, but let’s take a moment to go back and look at how this season has started out for second year Panther coach Jeff Capel and his squad (Who in his first year took the Panthers from 8-24 the previous year to a slightly more respectable 14-19)
Exhibition Game and Down-to-the-Wire Season Opener
Pitt cruised through their exhibition game with an easy 98-47 victory vs Slippery Rock University. The offense was firing on all cylinders but it didn’t mean much in an exhibition vs inferior competition. The REAL test came on November 6th at the “Oakland ZOO” vs the Seminoles of Florida State. The fans created a crazy environment, a sellout, including stars in attendance such as Pittsburgh Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this years squad as Capel wants to bring Pitt back to be a march madness contender as they were in the Big East days, so everyone was ecstatic for this first game. Pitt also flipped and repositioned the court to better display their renowned student section, the Oakland Zoo on TV (#ZooEra). Some buildup was also created by the exciting “Blue & Gold Game” where Steelers and Former Pitt RB James Conner, and much respected Steelers LB Ryan Shazier were team captains, with Smith-Schuster also in attendance, and an ending concert performed by famous Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa. Now past the hype, Florida State (who Pitt had upset last season) was a big test as not only a season-opener, but an ACC-Play-opener (A rare opener as usually ACC play doesn’t start till much later). This game was tight till the end, but you could say it was a sloppy performance from both squads. There were many, many fouls (FSU:27, Pitt:16), and free throws definitely helped the Panthers, especially in the closing seconds where Pitt took the lead. It ended in a frenzy with Florida State rushing down the court and Trent Forrest missing the tying shot off the back of the rim. FSU got the offensive board only to get blocked by F/C Terrell Brown Jr.
Overall it was a very defensive game, and as I said before “sloppy” offensively. Some notable performers included Xavier Johnson, Terrell Brown Jr. and IMPACT shooter (JUCO transfer) Ryan Murphy, who all scored 13 points.
The Panthers shot 31.4% from the field and 34.6% from beyond the arc for the game.
The Seminoles finished shooting 39.6% from the field and 40% from three.
It was a big Test for the Panthers, but they pulled through in a big way, and the ZOO backed them the whole way.
Pitt’s Main Source of Firepower Beyond the Arc
Ryan Murphy (New Mexico JUCO transfer) has been absolutely lighting it up for Pitt in his first season with them, and currently leads the team in points (51) and 3-Pointers made (9). Many times they make sure he gets the ball as he is pretty much money from beyond the arc. He seems to be the only truly reliable shooting option for the Panthers at the moment. He is definitely an impact player and they look to keep feeding him as they find their rhythm as an offense.
Loss vs Nicholls State
After such a huge victory vs Florida State, you’d expect Pitt to beat Nicholls State (a small, and not well known school from Louisiana), however this was not the case. Pitt came out slow, and the underdog Nicholls St. seemed to want it more. Pitt was plagued with SEVERAL turnovers, and lets just say it wasn’t pretty. Pitt fell 75-70, and honestly could’ve won this game if Nicholls St. wasn’t absolutely lethal from beyond the arc, nailing 11 3-pointers! Pitt brought it within 1 point in the final minute, but the Colonels of Nicholls St. did their job and hit all of their free throws every time Pitt tried to foul. Ryan Murphy carried his squad with 28 points from the field. Pitt simply shot themselves in the foot with a ridiculous number of turnovers, 21 to be exact, which is incredibly hard to overcome.
Victory at Robert Morris University
Pitt Traveled 20 Miles to RMU in Moon, PA. RMU was hyped, Juju Smith-Schuster was in attendance in their student section, “Eat sh*t Pitt” chants were heard, and it was their inaugural game/unveiling of their newly constructed $45M arena (UPMC Arena). Pitt started off with a 7-0 run, but RMU came flying back on an 18-0 run to take an 11 Pitt lead. After those first 7 points, Pitt’s offense looked abysmal. They ended up scrapping by and managed to tie it at 27 to go into halftime. Capel is showing growth in this program where the Panthers actually fight back opposing to the 0-18 (ACC play) team of 2017. The second half was a different story, as Pitt came out cleaner offensively after adjustments, and maintained a 10+ point lead for most of the second half to defeat the Colonials 71-57.
A Growing Panther Team Faces it’s Next Big Test:”The Backyard Brawl”
A former Big-East and storied rivalry (The Backyard Brawl) is taking place this Friday at the “Oakland ZOO” (Petersen Events Center), as the 2-1 Panthers take on the 1-0 West Virginia Mountaineers who are only 70 miles South of Pittsburgh. WVU currently holds the all-time record on Pitt basketball (98-88). WVU has won the last 3 games by a margin of 9 or more, so Pitt looks to get payback on their storied enemy. It’s a sellout and it will be one to watch!
This game along with the Fort Meyers Tip-Off (Nov.25-27) and the ACC/Big 10 Challenge will show us who these Panthers really are as a team, who has truly bought in, and where Capel’s efforts are taking them with his “one brick at a time” mentality.