Jamel Artis, Pitt survive scare against Western Carolina with 79-73 victory


Junior forward Jamel Artis scored a season-high 29 points, leading a late Pitt rally to avoid an upset against Western Carolina.

With holiday break upon us, the Peterson Events Center was a quieter atmosphere for tonight’s matchup against Western Carolina.  The Oakland Zoo was on Christmas break.

With under 10 minutes remaining in the game, Pitt‘s home crowd was very quiet and uneasy.  The Panthers were down 7 points (61 to 54) with five minutes remaining in the game, and Pitt was in trouble.  The momentum was 100% with Western Carolina.

They appeared on the verge of being upset by the Catamounts.

Then the Panthers finally seemed to get out of their funk and realize that they were in position to begin the 2015 season 10-1.  Dixon called a timeout to regroup his team against the Southern Conference foe, and it worked.

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Pitt outscored Western Carolina by 13 points down the final stretch for a 79-73 victory, as junior forward Sheldon Jeter indicated that the Panthers simply began to “play harder.”  For 55 minutes, Western Carolina was the aggressor, hustling to the ball, tracking down rebounds, and burying three-pointers.

It is absolutely possible that Pitt overlooked Western Carolina, who was sandwiched between Davidson and Syracuse on the schedule.  Regardless, that is no excuse, and the Panthers were gritty down the stretch, capitalizing on Catamount turnovers and missed shots late in the game.

Pitt (10-1) struggled at the three-point line (making only 2 of 13 shots), but Artis was a dominant force in the middle of the paint, scoring 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.  Junior forwards Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter both contributed 12 points each, while senior point guard James Robinson added 11 points and 3 steals.

Dec 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Jamel Artis (1) brings the ball up court against the Western Carolina Catamounts during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. PITT won 79-73. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Senior guard Rhett Harrelson lead the Catamounts (4-8) with 21 points on 6 of 9 shooting at the three-point line, while senior guard Mike Brown scored 13 points, freshman guard Elijah Pughsley added 11 points, and senior forward Justin Browning scored 10.

Western Carolina set the tone early by going on an 11-0 run to make it 16-8.  Forward Torrian Brummitt scored 8 quick points for the Catamounts.  Pitt responded with their own 11-0 run to take the lead.  Coming out of halftime, Jamel Artis put on a show for Pitt fans.  He extended Pitt’s lead to 47-39 after scoring the first 10 points for Pitt.

Charlendez Brooks made a layup to give Western Carolina a 51-50 lead, and then Pughsley knocked down two big three-pointers to increase the lead to 61-54.  Artis tied the game at 61, and then junior guard Chris Jones buried a crucial three-pointer to give Pitt the 68-66 lead with a little over 2 minutes to go.

Pitt was successful at closing out the game after falling behind with 5 minutes to play.  Perhaps the Panthers can take this as a wake-up call that anyone can be beaten on any given night, regardless of the record of your opponent.

Pitt finished the contest shooting 50% (24 for 48), compared to the Catamounts 41.8% (28 for 67).  The Panthers had the edge in rebounding (39 to 29), assists (19 to 16), and blocks (9 to 1).  Pitt committed 14 turnovers with several sluggish passes, and they failed at guarding 5-foot-10 guard Harrelson from the three-point line.

This game was close due to the three-pointer by Western Carolina, and the overall sluggish play from Pitt.  Luckily, Pitt woke up when it mattered most, and they were able to win their 10th game of the season.

The win sealed Pitt’s 4-0 record in the Gotham Classic, in which the highlight game was a 94-69 blowout against Davidson at Madison Square Garden last Sunday.  A win is a win, and Pitt continues to chalk up victories and avoid bad losses.

I had originally thought that Pitt would be ranked going into the game tonight, but the Panthers certainly have some work to do.  They’ll have plenty of opportunities upcoming in ACC play.


Next: Riverhounds: Three possible loans from Crew SC

Pitt hosts Syracuse next Wednesday night to open up ACC play.