The first half of 2018 was one to forget for Pittsburgh basketball. The Panthers went 0-18 in conference play to finish the season with just eight wins, which led to the firing of head coach Kevin Stallings.
The second half showed a ton of promise, though, as new head coach Jeff Capel earned win number 10 to close out the calendar year with Saturday’s 68-54 victory over Colgate.
“It’s time to flush 2018,” Capel said after the win. “It’s over. . 2018 provided all of us with some really good things but some hard things, some adverse things and some difficult things, but they’re all things, I think, that helped make us stronger.”
Now, Pitt will head into ACC play and attempt to snap an 18-game conference losing streak. The final tuneup against the Raiders suggested that they’re capable.
Five Pittsburgh players cracked double figures offensively. Freshman guard Trey McGowens led the way with 16 points, with Jared Wilson-Frame (15), Au’Diese Toney (14), Terrell Brown (10) and Xavier Johnson (11) joining him in double figures.
Colgate (8-5) got out to a strong start, and led by a point with nearly seven minutes gone by in the first half. A 9-0 Pitt run over the next three minutes, sparked by seven points from Wilson-Frame, ended any hopes of a Raiders upset. Pitt went into the half with a nine-point lead and extended it in the second period.
“It was the energy on defense,” Wilson-Frame said. “I think we just needed to have a little bit more energy and focus up and get the job done.”
Pitt held the raiders to a season-low 30-percent shooting. Junior guard Will Rayman led Colgate with 10 points, eight of which came in the first half.
Colgate: Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate’s second-leading scorer, was held to just five points. He came into the game averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“I think their physicality didn’t let him get the ball close to the basket,” Colgate coach Matt Langel said. “He missed a couple early around the basket that if he’s able to get those to go down, maybe it changes what his game could be. He didn’t get the shots we need him to get.”
Pitt: Has been inconsistent rebounding all season. On the whole, they have a positive margin, with 466 rebounds for and 413 against entering Saturday, but there have been games where the Panthers struggled on the glass. This was one of those games, as Colgate won the battle of the boards, 50-34, and 25 of those rebounds coming on offense.
Capel thought his team’s inability to control the defensive glass held back his team’s transition offense.
“If we defensive rebound, then we’re able to get out in transition and that’s where we’re at our best,” he said. “We did a very, very poor job this afternoon of that.”
Brown had nine blocks, setting a Pitt program record, besting the previous mark of seven, which had been set 15 times, most recently by Gary McGhee in 2010. Pitt also tied a team record with 13 blocks.
Brown was Pitt’s leading shot-blocker a year ago, but had just 16 this season coming into Saturday.
“Today, I just had energy,” Brown said. “I felt different. I think that helped. . It’s kind of just a mental thing.”
Colgate: Starts Patriot League play with a trip to Navy on Jan. 3.
Pitt: Has a week off before beginning ACC play by hosting North Carolina on Jan. 5.
Source: The Associated Press