Western Carolina (4-8) had plenty of heart instilled in them against the Pitt Panthers (10-1), but their lack of height helped Pitt chalk up a non-conference victory in this nail-biter, 79-73.
Deep into this one, Pitt and WCU were in a shootout that was going back and forth, the Catamounts even had a 66-65 lead with less than three minutes left on the clock– something nobody expected.
Elijah Pughsley and Rhett Harrelson’s speed helped keep WCU in it until the very end. Pughsley was able to run around Pitt’s defense when he was on the court, WCU was probably at their best with him on the court, and Harrelson was able to light up the scoreboard with 21 points.
Nevertheless, Pitt pulled out the victory against the Western Carolina.
Rebounding: The key factor for the Panthers against an extremely small Western Carolina team; Pitt led the boards with 38 compared to WCU’s 29. Without pulling down crucial boards, the outcome would undoubtedly be completely different. However, Coach Jamie Dixon believes that recovering more loose balls will be a must going into ACC play.
The star of the night for the Panthers was forward Jamel Artis. Artis played a tremendous role on the boards tonight for the Panthers as he led the team with eight total bounds. Although, giving him credit for just grabbing boards would not do him justice deserved, a tremendous job on the offensive side as well for Artis helped Pitt grab this win.
Adding to his team-high eight rebounds tonight, Artis was able to accumulate 29 points and four assists.
“Jamel Artis is a good player. A nice looking jump shot, and shot it under pressure against us,” WCU coach Larry Hunter on Artis’ play.
Artis put up two shots from behind the arc tonight and converted one (Chris Jones making the other). As a team, the Panthers went 2-13 from beyond the arc, not pretty at all.
If the Panthers expect to beat strong ACC opponents, three-point shooting must improve. Pitt was taking some relatively wide open shots most of the night and were missing. Coach Dixon noted that it is a concern for him, but he also mentioned that the team is converting most of their three-point plays at the line, which makes up for the lackluster three-point shooting.
Coach Dixon is right, shooting free throws has been, perhaps, Pitt’s best asset to this point. Artis and Michael Young combined to go 14-14 from the free throw line. When you shoot 29-33 (88 percent) as a team from the line in a game, nearly 80 percent on the year, your basketball team is going to win more often than not.
A factor that helped WCU keep Dixon’s offense guessing all night was the Catamounts’ ability to change their defensive scheme nearly every possession.
Hunter said he has a ton of respect for the Panthers’ offense, believes the change in defense was necessary. More often than not, WCU was playing a zone. Artis is usually the man Pitt turns to when the opposition is in the zone, as we know, nothing was different tonight. Other than Artis, Pitt had three players eclipse ten points.
Sheldon Jeter, a member of the double-digit scoring tonight, provided a huge spark for the Panthers of the bench by collecting 12 points while playing well above-average defense to boot.
Not to mention, Jeter provided a highlight reel dunk for Pitt:
Pitt looked like a different team in the last four minutes offensively. If they want to compete against big-time teams in a basketball-heavy ACC, the Panthers will need to play with that type of intensity.
Seven days from now, Pitt and Syracuse will open up ACC play at the Petersen Events Center.
James Robinson on Syracuse, “Both teams know each other pretty well. It is going to come down to who makes the plays.”
Of course, Syracuse will be a huge one on Pitt’s schedule, but for now, they will have to work on their mistakes they had against WCU once back to practice after Christmas break.
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