Pittsburgh has not scored 50 points in regulation in any of its past three games. The Panthers have not shot better than 37 percent in that span and were outrebounded in all three games. That might spell disaster for most teams, but the 25th-ranked Panthers somehow found a way to win two of the three.
The latest was a 62-57 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, a game in which the Panthers (20-4, 8-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had to erase a four-point deficit in the final 33 seconds of regulation before prevailing in double overtime. The home win came three days after the Panthers needed overtime to beat Miami.
Pitt was excelling at the offensive end early in the ACC season. The Panthers averaged 78.5 points per game in their first four conference games. But since sixth man Durand Johnson went down with a season-ending knee injury the offense has fallen flat in many games.
Pitt is averaging 66 points per game since Johnson has been hurt. That average would be even lower if the Panthers didn't play three overtime periods in the past two games.
"We can play in 40s and 50s or 70s and 80s," Pitt sophomore point guard James Robinson said. "Every game we might not be able to get the pace going. We just have to continue to find ways to win. If we have to play in the 40s or 50s, that's fine. But if we have to play in the 70s or 80s that's fine, too."
If the Panthers want to beat undefeated and No. 1 Syracuse on Wednesday night they are going to need to score more than they have in recent games. They lost 59-54 at Syracuse on Jan. 18 after blowing a late lead.
The scoring struggles have continued since then. Senior forward and leading scorer Lamar Patterson, who averages 17 points per game, had been the team's most consistent player, but even he had his struggles against Virginia Tech (8-15, 1-10). Battling a thumb injury, Patterson was 1 for 9 from the field and only scored five points. He was held scoreless in regulation.
The five starters were 15 for 40 from the field as the Panthers struggled to solve Virginia Tech's 2-3 zone. It was the type of game where Johnson, who was the team's best 3-point shooter, could have helped.
"We're always working to improve," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "They really sagged (in the zone). I thought we got good shots early and we just got away from that. We can't let a few missed shots affect us."
Pitt shot 29 percent from 3-point range, but outside shooting isn't the Panthers' only problem. Their usually reliable inside game has been almost non-existent of late. Senior forward Talib Zanna has not scored more than 10 points in any of the past three games. Freshman forward Mike Young only contributed four against the Hokies and did not record a rebound in 27 minutes.
Jarrell Eddie had 15 points for Virginia Tech, which is near the bottom of the ACC in rebounding margin but outrebounded Pitt 43-28.
"We're not rebounding well," Dixon said. "It's obvious."
But the Panthers are finding ways to win. They trailed Miami and Virginia Tech in the final minute of regulation and won both games in overtime. On Saturday, they trailed the Hokies by four when Robinson converted a four-point play with 33 seconds left after receiving a pass in the corner from Cameron Wright, who led the Panthers with 18 points, four in the second overtime.
"Cam did a really good job attacking," Robinson said. "He found me in the corner and I was able to make a play for my team. I was able to step up for my team."
Pitt completed a stretch where it played three games in six games. Dixon said rest and better preparation are keys for the Panthers as they get ready face a Syracuse team that will be much tougher than the previous two opponents on the schedule.
"We're playing through injury and fatigue and we have to find a way to figure it out," Dixon said