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Jeff Capel wonders why the defense disappeared as Pitt loses for the 6th time in 7 games

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After playing, coaching and closely observing college basketball at the highest level for nearly three decades, Jeff Capel believes he knows what it takes to win.

When he practices, watches video with his players, and gathers them around him during a timeout, he preaches his principles of solid play. Among the most important are responsible defense and personal self-control.

Capel and his players failed in both areas at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday in a 74-73 loss to a struggling NC State team (9-9, 5-8 ACC).

After beating Duke on Jan. 19, the Panthers (9-8, 5-7) have lost six of their past seven games in what will become three-turf at the end of the season for a once-proud schedule.

Pitt has lost 22 of its 28 games in February and March in the past three seasons.

“It’s hard to win, especially in February,” said Capel. “We learn that again.”

Capel blamed his team’s poor defense for the loss against NC State and the five that preceded it. NC State hit 14 of the first 21 shots, cooled slightly, but still fired 56.9% in the end (29 of 51).

Asked to point out specific areas of defense that were most troubling, he said, “Everything. There was nothing good about our defense. If a team shoots 57 percent, you have done nothing to defend. ”

In Pitt’s past six defeats, the opponent has shot no worse than 46.4% and surpassed 50% four times. In three of the defeats, Pitt allowed percentages of 46.7, 54.2, and 50 from outside the arc. NC State shot a respectable 36.4. Baylor leads the nation with a percentage of 3 points, shooting just 43.9.

“If I knew (the problem), we would fix it,” said Capel. ‘We’ve tried everything. We are working on it. We are practicing it. We have to get better with it. ”

“I feel like we are out of energy,” said Justin Champaign, sophomore. ‘We can no longer say that we are young. We need to pick up our energy. ”

Junior Au’Diese Toney pointed out “a lack of effort”.

“I feel like we picked up this game, but it was too late.”

Despite the leaky defense, Pitt had several chances of winning in a match with 16 lead changes.

But the Panthers – and Capel – helped Wolfpack too much with technical fouls in the second half (on top of Xavier Johnson’s technical fouls in the first half for yelling at the NC State bench after hitting a 3-pointer).

Freshman Femi Odukale injured his calf and briefly left the game when he got tangled up with Jericole Hellems. Odukale was given a technique to pull Hellems to the ground. Capel rushed far into court to protest and was given a T. After Hellems hit all four foul shots, Pitt was behind, 56-48, with 13 minutes and 34 seconds to go in the game.

“They hurt us,” said Champagni, who recorded his ACC-leading 11th double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds). “You just have to try to forgo the technical knowledge and just be better as a group.”

Johnson’s technique bothered Capel as it is the second consecutive game he has hosted. At the start of the game, he put Johnson and Ithiel Horton on the bench for their technical Sunday at Georgia Tech.

“Nothing I’ve said has worked,” Capel said of Johnson. ‘I’ve been telling him for 2 ½ years. Stop talking to the referees. Stop being demonstrative. None of what we said worked. ”

Despite everything, Pitt had a 68-67 lead and 2:43 possession left when NC State’s DJ Funderburk stole the ball from Johnson.

Pitt regained the lead, 71-69, on a quick lay-up from Johnson with 1:49 left. But Funderburk’s three-point play on the other hand pushed the Wolfpack back forward to stay, 72-71, and left Capel wondering what had happened to his transition defense.

“We have to improve with those games if we want to win in February,” said Capel.

Still, Pitt was alive. One point lower after Champagna’s two foul shots forced Cam Hayes into a traveling foul with nine seconds to go. After a timeout, Toney missed a row layout. Champagnia chased the loose ball, but was next to the target on a 3-pointer near the buzzer.

“(Toney) had played well (6 out of 10 so far),” said Capel, who also placed 3-point specialist Horton in the corner and Terrell Brown and Champagnia under the basket, looking for a tip-in.

“The play was just to make a play, whatever was being read,” Capel said. And he got a shot. I don’t know if it was a violation. I couldn’t see it. We know there was contact. ”

Get the latest news on Pitt basketball and all things Panther’s track and field.

Jerry DiPaola is a writer on the Tribune Review staff. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter

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