Pitt (8-1) had a tougher task with Morehead State (5-3) of the Ohio Valley Conference than first expected when glancing at the schedule. Ultimately, though, Jamal Artis and his 22-pont game were able to outlast the MSU Eagles from Kentucky, 72-62.
After coming off an 84-51 onslaught victory over Eastern Washington, EWU’s head coach Larry Hunter gave Pitt major praise. After the game, Hunter said, “Pitt is the best team I have ever faced in my five-year NCAA Div-1 coaching career,” big words coming from a coach that beat Indiana in the tournament last March. One can imagine why many media pundits considered the Eagles an ‘easy win’ for Pitt.
However, the Eagles gave Pitt a run for their money early, even generating a 15-14 lead with just over nine minutes left in the first half. The scene had upset alert all over it, MSU’s bench was screaming and pumping up each other, but it eventually came to a crashing end when Michael Young began to heat up late in the first half.
Young had 16 points for the Panthers in the first half alone, and as soon as he started sinking buckets consistently, the tide changed in Pitt’s favor.
By the time it was all said and done, Young had 20 points, although, he was not alone in Pitt’s offensive barrage.
Jamel Artis stood out as well by giving Pitt a career-high 22 points against the Eagles.
Despite their big performances, Pitt was unable to convert from behind the arc, something that usually plays a major role in the Panthers scheme. As a whole, the Panthers shot 7.7 percent (1-13) from three-point range — that will have to improve as Pitt goes on to face bigger and better teams down the road such as Davidson (December 20) and Syracuse (December 30).
Pitt had been able to overcome adversity before when they had rebounding issues, which has continued to be a strength of Pitt’s since Jamie Dixon has made it a point of emphasis in practice.
Rafael Maia has established himself as the Panther’s elite rebounder in 2015. In tonight’s affair he contributed nine rebounds to Pitt’s 37 rebounds, that total surpassed MSU by nine. Coach Dixon is testing the waters trying to figure out how many minutes Maia can go without getting fried, but he has earned a role on the team as the guy down low for the most part. His rebounding ability gives Pitt a great advantage with all the second-chance opportunities
Another big man that can play a factor for Pitt on the boards is sophomore Ryan Luther, who only played one minute today. The media did not hesitate to ask why he has not seen the floor of late when Dixon arrived for his post-game interview. Here is how Dixon responded, “It is probably a mistake. He has played well; his numbers indicate that,” he continued by saying, “Every game you guys are going to ask about one of the big guys that did not play and today just so happened to be Ryan.”
MSU’s head coach Sean Woods believed that rebounding played a factor, but not the biggest factor in tonight’s matchup.
Free throws and three-point defense played a huge factor, according to Woods. “If Artis and Young were not sent to the line so many times, we would have had a better chance.” Woods also noted that his team played well in the press, and “spooked” Pitt of sorts at times; the full-court press worked to perfection twice for them, including one that caused Chris Jones to lose the ball out of bounds in the second half.
As Woods noted, shooting 80.6 percent from the free throw line, including Artis (10-11) and Young’s (12-13) performances, will usually lead to good results for the opponent.
Earlier in the game Pitt possessed a 19-point lead over MSU, but ended up only topping them by 10 points. Dixon gave his thoughts on the matter in his post-game interview by saying, “One of our problems this year has been how to play with a 20-point lead. We need to figure it out.”
Pitt will travel to Madison Square Garden after a week off for finals week to go battle Davidson (7-1).
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