Michael Young and Jamel Artis single-handedly lifted the Pitt Panthers over the Marquette Golden Eagles. In a two-day tournament championship series, the pair muscled, scratched, and clawed to pull out at least one win.
The duo combined for 51 points in Pitt’s 78-75 victory over Marquette, holding tough in the final moments to secure the victory. Following their 42-point outburst in Thursday’s game against SMU, the result is tremendous, but a tough pill to swallow. Young and Artis scored 64 percent of the Pitt Panthers’ point in two days at Madison Square Garden. It took the first 20 minutes before the gas pedal finally activated.
“Our mindset coming into the game was, ‘play harder than them, play tougher than them, and play faster than them,’ and we did none of those things,” Young said. “[Halftime] was a look at yourself in the mirror-type moment.”
Down by 11 at the break, Pitt’s heavy hitters and supporting cast knew that one team in the early session of the 2K Classic would walk out of MSG without a win.
“We did not look like a good basketball team in the first half and we have to play with passion and energy on the defensive half to win,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “One team had to walk out of here with a donut, and I’m glad it wasn’t us.”
The Panthers struggled mightily in the first half, limping their way to what seemed like a fairly even first 20 minutes with Marquette. But the Golden Eagles rallied late by hitting some tough three-point shots, finding themselves a double-digit halftime lead.
“Back up against the wall means we’ve got to fight,” Young said. “Me being a senior…it’s now or never. Going into the second half I’m thinking ‘we can’t get this half back.’”
Young used the motivation of his short college career as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I knew it was time for me to be aggressive,” Young said. “Time for me to be the senior, All-ACC guy, whatever you want I had to be that guy for us tonight.”
In the second half, Young took the game upon himself, scoring 12 straight points for the Panthers. Suddenly, their big halftime deficit turned into holding a lead. As Stalling alluded, the defense turned the game around while Young’s offensive explosion rocked the Garden.
“Before we went on the 10-0 or 12-0 run…whatever run we went on…we were making plays,” Young said. “We got five stops in a row and that helped us a lot.”
Ahead by one point with 24.1 seconds remaining in regulation, Marquette took to the clipboard following a timeout. Looking to draw up something to give itself the lead, the team crafted a few last-minute plays to break the Panthers.
But they did not break. Pitt held its breath long enough to swat away and layup attempts at the rim, and stole their lone victory of the tournament.
Early in the Stallings era at Pitt, the Panthers have won three of four games with the magic of Artis and Young. But the traveling band doesn’t play all five instruments on stage. Moving forward, Pitt’s supporting cast will have to step up to not only keep playing well defensively, but to flat out score.
Come ACC time, Pitt’s dreams of a conference championship rest solely on others to fill up the stat sheet like Chris Jones and Ryan Luther, who chipped in with 21 points combined.
Even with the nice contribution, Pitt escaped. To truly be dominant and have seniors take this team for a ride, the Panthers other three men on the floor must takeover a game or two.
“That’s what we need,” Young said. “Jamel and I will carry a lot of the load but we can’t do it by ourselves. Down the stretch we need everybody. We need those guys to be as big if we want to be the team we want to be.”