Home Pitt’s threes were falling: The offensive rebounds, though, they’re on Tony Bennett

Pitt’s threes were falling: The offensive rebounds, though, they’re on Tony Bennett

Chris Graham
uva reece beekman jake groves pitt
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Tony Bennett and his staff did their best to prepare their Virginia team for Pitt’s relentless ball screens, just maybe not enough, as it turns out – and that wasn’t the only way Bennett found himself in the rare occasion of having been outcoached by the guys on the other side of the scorer’s table.

On that second point, it doesn’t take much to look back at the game replay and pore through the box score and think that Bennett overreacted to Pitt’s early offensive success by deciding to sit his starting center, Jordan Minor, in favor of giving more minutes to his quicker bigs, 6’11” backup center Blake Buchanan and 6’9” stretch four Jake Groves.

The thinking there had to be that Buchanan and Groves would be better suited in defending ball-screen actions involving Pitt’s Blake Hinson, a 6’8” power forward with bounce and range, and 7’0” backup center Guillermo Diaz Graham, who merits outsized attention on pick-and-pops out to the three-point line.

Bennett tried everything, particularly with Hinson – the traditional hard hedges, basically, trying to double the ball-handler, to get the ball out of his hands to basically force a reset; and when that wasn’t working, going to drop coverages with the big staying under the screen to be able to stick with the screener, which opened the floor for the guards to get into the paint.

Hinson made a mess of things for Virginia, scoring 27 points, connecting on 5-of-13 from three, 2-of-2 on midrange jumpers, 4-of-4 on shots at the rim.

Diaz Graham had more modest numbers – eight points on 3-of-5 shooting, 2-of-3 from three – but his presence alone was enough on high screens to keep the middle of the floor open for dribble-drives and the corners open for three-point shooters.

The other guys who did damage with all of this going on at once: freshman combo guard Carlton Carrington, who had a modest nine points on 3-of-8 shooting, 2-of-6 from three, but had six assists; freshman point guard Jaland Lowe, who had 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 2-of-3 from three;  and junior guard Ishmael Leggett, who only had two makes from the field, both threes, but was 7-of-8 at the line.

What happened?

Virginia runs some offensive sets somewhat similar to Pitt’s ball-screen separates with Groves, a 50 percent shooter from three this season, though Groves, more often, fades out to the three-point line after setting off-ball screens.

The ball-screen separates run like slip screens, where the job of the screener is to move away from the ball-handler coming his way – separating – as quickly as possible.

“They’ll use ball screens with space,” Bennett explained to reporters after the game, “and so you’re worried with Graham, 25, he can screen, separate and shoot the three, you know, and of course, Hinson can as well, so that puts a little pressure there. But those guys, if you don’t do the job, they’re looking to attack, so it’s kind of a, they got both of the guards to attack off the ball screen and make some plays, and then some of those guys that really separate shooting, and they started mixing and faking the screen, setting it, and I was just, make them earn, and I thought at times we did, and if they hit the tough shots, so be it.”

In the game prep over the weekend and on Monday, Bennett and the staff worked on different coverages for the ball-screen actions, but it seemed like Pitt had the answer every time.

“Everybody’s tried to play them different ways because they put a little pressure on you. Sometimes they roll, sometimes they don’t set it. They have very good action with spacing and the right kind of personnel, and their guards are very clever. All of them touch the paint and make plays with good spacing,” Bennett said.

“They had us guessing, they really did,” Bennett went on, lamenting, “that’s a tough feeling there, almost when you’re hoping they’re missing, and you’re not making them earn as much. That’s tough.”

Gluing Minor to the bench made the problem worse

And then, there’s the thing about Minor, whose insertion into the starting lineup last month was the trigger to the team’s eight-game winning streak going into last night.

Minor only got eight minutes last night, scoring four points, committing one foul, subbing out for the final time at the 17:30 mark of the second half.

That he had the team’s only positive plus/minus – at +6 – might tell you something.

Virginia was -17 in the other 32 minutes, with the flurry of threes – Pitt was 14-of-32 from three – and the Panthers’ dominance on the boards coming with Minor sitting beside his teammates and the assistants.

The first number that stands out there is the 35-25 overall rebound advantage, but the more important one is Pitt’s 11 offensive rebounds that led to 13 second-chance points, seven of those coming down the stretch.

The damage there: an offensive-rebound three by Hinson that extended a four-point lead to seven, a layup by Hinson that made it a 12-point game, and then the backbreaker, a Carrington second-chance layup with 3:02 to go that had the Virginia kids hanging their heads on their way back down the court and sent the fans streaming toward the exits.

It was a sorta damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation.

“When we broke down, they made us pay, and then they made us pay on the offensive glass, too,” Bennett said.

The part about Pitt’s guys making shots, that just happens – the old saying about basketball is, it’s a make-or-miss game.

But the part about the offensive rebounds, that one’s self-inflicted, unfortunately.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].