PITTSBURGH – A game that got off to a promising start for Pitt ended in a blowout victory for Vanderbilt, as the Commodores topped the Panthers, 68-52, at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday night.
“Really disappointed in our performance,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said after the game. “The last seven and a half minutes of the first half, and then probably about the last 12-13 minutes of the second half.”
Pitt’s record fell to 2-3 with the defeat as Capel lost to his former AAU teammate Jerry Stackhouse. The two played on the Charlotte Sonics together in 1992 before Capel went to Duke and Stackhouse chose rival North Carolina.
Vanderbilt went scoreless for seven minutes in the first half, but the Panthers failed to pull away by more than nine points.
Pitt’s Femi Odukale and Vanderbilt’s Trey Thomas led all scorers with 14 points each.
Twelve of Thomas’ points came on 3-pointers.
Freshman Nate Santos added 11 points, six rebounds and an assist for the Panthers, while Scotty Pippen Jr. notched 11 points, five rebounds and five assists for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt scored 30 points off of 3-pointers while Pitt scored just six.
Mouhamadou Gueye’s dunk with 7:29 remaining in the first half gave the Panthers an 18-9 lead. A steal by Pippen led to a Tyrin Lawrence layup, which Pippen followed up with a 3-pointer. Jordan Wright added a 3 of his own and the Commodores were within a point with 4:51 remaining in the half.
“We were up 18-9, so we had done a really good job defensively,” Capel said. “We got a wide open 3, we missed it. Then we just allowed – our defense wasn’t good. It wasn’t as connected as it was. Then offensively, we missed some shots, but we took some shots that maybe weren’t the best shots for us.”
Vanderbilt’s use of zone defense gave the Panthers fits and the Commodores took a 24-23 lead into halftime.
“We were fortunate to only be down one at the half,” Capel said.
The Panthers never led in the second half, but kept the game close early on. Jamarius Burton’s layup pulled the Panthers within two at the under eight timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Thomas got to work. Held scoreless until 7:44 remained in the game, the sophomore guard hit four 3-pointers over the next 4:25 as Vanderbilt went on a 22-4 run to take a commanding 66-46 lead with 1:57 remaining.
“I thought the second half we started OK, it was 44-42,” Capel said. “And I thought again, we just allowed our inability to make shots affect everything and there was just an unbelievable slide during that time, where the defense – for us – was non-existent, and I’m not taking anything away from their execution.
“We can’t allow our inability to make shots affect our defense, because we have not been a good shooting team.”
Pitt’s leading scorer, John Hugley, entered the contest averaging 16 points per game, but was held to a single point on Wednesday night.
“He’s got to play harder,” Capel said of Hugley. “He’s got to play harder every possession. Being a good player is not easy. and he works hard but, you got to play harder. You got to talk.
“This is not just him, this is everyone. You have to talk, you have to be engaged all the time in every play. and we need all of our eyes doing that all the time, not just when it’s going well, but when things aren’t going well. You still have to do that.”
Pitt will host Maryland-Baltimore County at 2 p.m. Saturday. In 2018, the Retrievers became the first 16th seed to defeat a No. 1 seed when they upset Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey