Pitt locks in to turn around defense, keys win

‘We understand that it’s win or go home. It’s really amped us up.’
Greg Elliott defending
Photo credit Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

GREENSBORO, NC (93.7 The Fan) – You would have to be 82 years-old to be alive the last time Pitt held a team to as few points as the 41 they allowed to Iowa State in a 59-41 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Friday.

You would only have to bee a couple of weeks old to watch them give up an average of 88 points a game over the last four in the regular season. How in the world did this team turn it around?

“We understand that it’s win or go home,” said senior Jamarius Burton. “It’s really amped us up. We’ve locked in even more to fight for each other. We are a brotherhood. The bottom line is we don’t want to stop playing with each other right now. We want to continue to advance.”

“I said to these guys in the locker room, we were a really good defensive team for the majority of the year except for the last month of the season, and we've really dialed back in these past two games and played at an elite level,” said Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. “Really, really proud of them.”

“It’s March, it’s an emphasis on defense and keying in defensively,” said Pitt senior Nike Sibande. “We know it was a struggle early in the season. We just locked in on it watching film, watching different things to make sure we are in a better position to execute defensively.”

“I think Coach has been on us recently about defending,” said senior Nelly Cummings. “We had a few games where we weren't really as locked in as we should have been. When our Coach gets on us like that, he is going to make the effort for us to really go harder in that aspect of the game, and we knew we needed to do that to win today.”

“So we knew that it was going to require us to be really, really locked in and focused and paying attention to details. That's kind of what we're doing. We have an older group who has been here before, and we understand what it takes to win in March.”

Three different times Pitt players used the term ‘locked in’. How locked in were they? Iowa State got its first field goal 9:55 into the game to make the score 22-4. It wasn’t until 6:51 of the first half that ISU reached double-figures. The Cyclones shot 29% in the first half (9% from three) and in the second half, 17% field goals, 10% from three.

Pitt went a stretch of missing 13 of 14 shots in the first half, yet maintained a lead. It started the second half 2 of 12 FG and built on its lead.

“I thought we really, really executed the game plan,” Capel said. “Our guys did an unbelievable job. We were dialed in, they were locked in. We contested shots. We knew who we wanted to play off. I thought that spear-headed what we wanted to do offensively. We were able to get stops and be organized offensively. We did a really good job of being strong.”

“We wanted to make their bigs try to finish over top of us. Just looking at their stats, watching them play, they had struggled to score really all year. They really needed turnovers. That's how they scored. When we were up in the first half, that's how they got back in it. We started turning the ball over. We weren't organized offensively. I thought once we did a better job of that, then we were really able to contain them.”

“We wanted to try and eliminate as many easy baskets as we could. If we did that, we would hold them down and we did.”

“We really understood the scouting report and what the strengths and weaknesses were and we continued to fight to the end and play as a unit,” Burton said. “Our defense united us and allowed us to get out in transition and get easy shots. That’s how we want to play when we get stops.”

“We knew the last (part) of the (regular) season we had a chance to do something big, but we didn't because of our defense,” said senior Greg Elliott. “Everybody wanted to say it, but we knew. Our defense wasn't up to par. We knew if we wanted win games in March, we had won some early, but if you want to win, you have to play defense and rebound. That's what we've been doing.”

And look where they are. A win from their seventh-ever Sweet 16 and first since 2004. They will have to go through an alum to do it. Sean Miller and Xavier await Sunday.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports