Are better days ahead for ‘fatigued’ Pitt? |

Are better days ahead for ‘fatigued’ Pitt?

Jerry DiPaola
Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel speaks to his team during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Jeff Capel chuckled, but you could tell he really wasn’t in a joking mood.

He was talking about how easily Clemson, a team that had lost five of its first six ACC games, hit shots in the first half of the Tigers’ 82-69 victory against Pitt on Tuesday night.

Capel, the coach of what he called a “fatigued” Pitt team, said the Panthers offered “no resistance.” He compared Pitt’s defensive effort in the first half to “a shootaround.” A shootaround is a light practice where one team does nothing but casually shoot against nothing but air. There may not be a worse indictment of a team by its coach.

Capel laughed when he said it, but he’s taking Pitt’s shortcomings very seriously.

Here are three thoughts on Pitt’s four-game losing streak (all but double-digit margins) and how it might end:

1. Au’Diece Toney is more valuable than anyone knew.

Toney, a freshman guard who is the team’s top rebounder and best defender, didn’t play due to a hand injury suffered in practice two days before the game.

Without Toney in their face, Clemson hit 14 3-pointers (42 points) in 27 attempts. How embarrassing is that?

Even after an outstanding effort against Pitt, Clemson is still 13 th in the 15-team ACC in 3-point field goals (124) and 12 th in percentage (32.0).

Capel did a nice job of fortifying the skeleton of a roster left over from Kevin Stallings’ two seasons, but Pitt doesn’t have sufficient depth to withstand injuries to its best players.

With 3 ½ days to heal, Toney’s hand might be ready for the Syracuse game Saturday at Petersen Events Center. “We hope so,” Capel said.

Does he ever.

2. Pitt didn’t’ even offer a serious presence in the paint.

Capel just gave up on trying to employ a center against Clemson.

Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka offered next to nothing while limited to a total of 14 minutes. Chukwuka played 10 minutes and had zeros in every stat column except one foul.

Brown, who is third in the ACC with 46 blocks, also had a series of zeros, except for two unsuccessful shot attempts (one was a 3-pointer). He had an excuse, though. Capel used him for only four minutes.

3. There is hope for a resurgence.

Pitt has 10 games before the ACC Tournament, and seven of those are against unranked teams. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least Pitt came out on the other side of the gauntlet that included three road games and Dukes (all in a row and all defeats).

After the Syracuse game, Pitt plays six games against teams with more losses than victories in the ACC.

It might be interesting to hide in the back and watch Pitt’s practices the next few days while Capel tries to pull his team out of its lethargic state in time to take advantage of the easier (not easy) schedule.

Capel has to restore his team’s energy, but he also must walk a thin line because of the short bench and fatigued state that has settled over his players.

He complained the team had “no intensity, no energy, no desire” in the first half against Clemson after falling behind by as many as 29 points.

He liked the way the team bounced back in the second half, but that only shows they care, which is the least any team can offer its fans.

The question on everyone’s mind is this: Will fans have to wait another year to see results?

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.