Panther-lair - Pitt looks to bounce back tonight
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Pitt looks to bounce back tonight

The Pitt basketball team is set to return to action tonight at 7:00 p.m. against Monmouth of the Metro Atlantic Conference. Monmouth is 1-3 on the young season and is coming off back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Kansas, the latter being a 112-57 decision to the fifth-ranked Jayhawks.

Monmouth is led by King Rice, who has been guiding the program since the 2011-12 season. The Hawks have a KenPom.com ranking of 252, and were picked to finish 4th in the MAAC. Ray Salnave is a 6’3” junior guard that is averaging a team-high 14 points a game, so he will be a player that Pitt has to watch.

While Pitt can’t take any team likely, this game isn’t so much about Monmouth, it’s about Pitt responding and playing a solid basketball game. While it’s early, Pitt’s 2-2 start is less than inspiring. Maybe not so much the record itself, since the schedule has been difficult, but it is how the team is playing.

Pitt was dismantled and embarrassed at home to rival West Virginia on Friday night. The Mountaineers held Pitt to 3-of-25 shooting in the second half on the way to a 15-point win over the Panthers with many of their fans taking over with cheers at the Petersen Events Center in the closing minutes. Playing a team like West Virginia with a potential lottery pick in Oscar Tshiebwe is only going to help Pitt over time, head coach Jeff Capel believes.

“Well it’s early, four games in,” Capel said following the West Virginia game. “So it’s definitely early and we think it will help us and we can use this to help us get better.”

Many of the early season struggles for Pitt starts with sophomore point guard Xavier Johnson. The Woodbridge (Va) native was one of the best freshmen in the ACC a year ago, and rarely struggled but he was limited to just four points against the Mountaineers. He is averaging 8.5 points a game through four, nearly half of what he averaged a season ago.

While not naming him or any other players by name, Capel thinks some of his guys are pressing a bit when the team goes in cold spells and hopes his guys can understand those droughts will end sooner with team efforts, not individual ones.

“People see us struggling and they feel like, ‘I have to make a play. I have to do this.’ We have to continue to understand that basketball is a ‘We’ sport,” the Pitt coach explained. “It’s we and they beauty of it is when you have five playing as one. We have to continue to get better with that. It’s something we have to continue to get better with, and we will.”

Pitt junior guard Ryan Murphy cited that in his postgame remarks on Friday as well.

“It comes down to us playing as a team like Coach Capel always talks about,” he said. “We have to trust his plays because they work really well.”

The Panthers will get a shot at starting to fix their issues tonight with a team they should beat coming to the Petersen Events Center.