When Pitt Men’s Basketball tweeted out the starting line-up, there was no way this game was going to end with positive feelings. Whatever slight, sliver of optimism that Pitt could repeat the stunner of UVa was done. Milligan and Luther were in the starting lineup in place of Artis and Young.
This, barely 24 hours after it was announced that Justice Kithcart was dismissed from the team. As the news trickled out during the opening minutes of the game. It went from the players (and roommates) being late for practice to them being 10 minutes late to the team breakfast that morning. Coach Kevin Stallings held them out of the game for 10 minutes.
By the time Artis and Young saw the court, Pitt was down 19-2. Yet to score a basket. The only thing left in the half was the question of whether Pitt would crack double-digits before halftime. (They did. Yay?)
I have such mixed feelings about all of this.
This has been a long time coming for Artis and Young. Artis was already suspended a game once this season. By unverified accounts, both players have been pushing things for the last few months off the court. On the court it was apparent with their unwillingness to play defense while crowing about being able to do what they want on offense.
Whether it was feeling safe in the fact that they were the best players on the team and seniors, or simply not respecting the new coach. (You’re not my real dad!) You can reasonably say, that this was a long time coming, and just the breaking point for Stallings — which he seemed to suggest in the postgame interview.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened. I have no way of knowing and don’t really care. My job is to uphold the integrity of the team and do things that are right by the team. That’s what I do. We struggled to score at the beginning of the game. It wasn’t like we closed it down once they came in. We didn’t all of a sudden threaten them because we had other players in the game. It’s just one of those unfortunate things that you deal with sometimes.” – Kevin Stallings on whether Young and Artis’ tardiness is part of an overall pattern of behavior.
On the other side, this feels so hollow and empty in the final game of the season. On a road game against a far better team that was almost certainly going to beat Pitt. That Stallings let stuff go for so long that he had no one else to blame but himself — and he just doesn’t do that.
And we are talking about being late for a team breakfast. Not even a practice. Artis and Young may be seniors, but no one has ever called them team leaders. Even now. This seems like a really small thing to be the breaking point.
Ultimately, this wasn’t a message to Young and Artis. Or even a punishment — outside of costing Mike Young the ACC Scoring title. (Luke Kennard edged Young out 20.1 ppg to 19.9 when he finished with 28 points while Young had only 14.)
Not at this point. It was a message to the remaining players, but because it came so, so late. I just don’t see how much of an impact it really leaves.
“We’re trying to establish a culture here of doing the right thing and having accountability and being responsible and committed to doing the right things for your teammates. Sometimes, even when it’s not the opportune time, you have to try to uphold that and enforce that.” – Stallings on sitting Young and Artis.
“I don’t know that I’ve got any magic that’s going to shift their way of thinking. I think when things go bad, there’s a reason they’re bad. The first thing you do is you try to fix what’s making it bad. If guys are unable or unwilling to fix those things that are bad, all the motivational speeches in the world aren’t going to do a lot of good. I’ll think about that as we get together tomorrow. Right now, as I’ve been doing and will continue to do, I’m trying to help guys get better and try to help them understand the right way and wrong way to do things and hope the message hits.” – Stallings on Pitt’s approach heading into the ACC tournament.
The loss drops Pitt into a tie with NC State for 13th place in the ACC. Because Pitt lost to NC State, Pitt will be the 14th seed in the ACC Tournament. That means facing Georgia Tech on Tuesday at 7pm in Brooklyn. The winner gets the #5 seed… Virginia.
Pitt has finished with its first losing season since the first year of Ben Howland. And a feeling that the program is in as much disarray as the last year of Ralph Willard.