Finding a balanced, supporting cast on the offensive end – perhaps the storyline that has lingered over the Pirates’ mediocre season to date – was back in the spotlight on Tuesday night at No. 2 Villanova.
Junior guard Jeremy Hazell continued to impress by hitting shots from anywhere on the court en route to a 32 point performance.
Yet, the lack of a backup offensive option became all too evident when Villanova began to pull away late in the second half.
In desperate need of a bounce back win on Saurday afternoon at No. 22 Pitt, the Pirates will have to break away from this trend – one that has led to a 12-8 (3-6 in the Big East) record and is indicative of an NIT-instead-of-NCAA’s finish to the year.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats had scoring options in the paint and on the perimeter, from forward Antonio Pena’s 16 points to guard Scottie Reynolds who added 15.
In fact, four of the five Villanova starters finished with double figure scoring.
Meanwhile, for the Hall, not a single player outside of Hazell could score more than nine points.
Looking back to this season’s highlight, the upset of then-No. 9 Pitt on
Jan. 24 at Prudential Center, the story was a bit different.
Hazell, plagued by foul trouble, found himself on the bench for the majority of the contest; he only saw 16 minutes of action.
But the Pirates found options – more than one – to make up the scoring. Sophomore forward Herb Pope recorded 19 points and junior forward Jeff Robinson scored 15 points.
This, along with nine point additions from both Hazell and senior guard Eugene Harvey, was enough to place Seton Hall in a spot to win.
The same storyline, albeit on the other end of the court that afternoon, was just as essential for the Hall to seal the win against the Panthers.
Pitt has three players averaging double-digit scoring this season as of press time – guards Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker and forward Gilbert Brown.
In the Jan. 24 game, Gibbs was the top option for the Panthers as he scored 23 points, 14 of which came at the free-throw line.
But Gibbs’ supporting cast struggled and left the door open for Seton Hall to grab the victory.
Wanamaker had only nine points on the night and Brown could only muster seven points on 2-7 shooting.
If it wasn’t for Pitt guard Jermaine Dixon’s contribution of 11 points, the Panthers may have fallen that afternoon to Seton Hall by more than three points.
Defense seemingly will be key in Pittsburgh on Saturday, as the Panthers play an old-school style of Big East basketball in yielding about 60 points per game to opponents on the year.
Pitt was in action prior to meeting the Hall, as they faced West Virginia last night on the road.
The No. 6 Mountaineers handled Pitt 70-51.
If the Pirates can break through offensively and find some help for Hazell, then this disappointing season may have a significant achievement linked with it – a home-and-home sweep against a perennial Big East contender.
Brian Wisowaty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org