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Pittsburgh’s margin for error shrinks with third straight loss

Feb 23, 2014, 8:58 PM EST

dixon AP

Since shooting 51% from the field in an 83-79 win at Maryland on January 25 Pittsburgh has struggled offensively, shooting no better than 41% in any of the seven games that followed. Game number seven in that dubious streak came on Sunday night, with the Panthers shooting 37% in a 71-66 home loss to Florida State.

Lamar Patterson (eight rebounds and five assists) scored 21 points but he needed 21 shots to do so, making eight of those attempts. Much has been made of Patterson’s shooting struggles and that’s understandable as he is Pittsburgh’s most versatile offensive option. But the fact of the matter is that the senior wing wasn’t the only Panther having issues against a Florida State team that has the size and athleticism needed to perform well defensively.

Talib Zanna, the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 12.2 points per game, scored just seven points on 1-for-4 shooting against Florida State’s deep and athletic front court. Zanna did grab 14 rebounds, but after shooting 2-for-11 in Pitt’s loss at North Carolina last weekend he needed to bounce back and it didn’t happen. In Patterson, Zanna and Cameron Wright (12 points) the Panthers have three players who are asked to carry much of the offensive load on a nightly basis, and when any of those three struggle Pittsburgh will have issues scoring.

Also of note on Sunday night was Florida State outscoring Pittsburgh 27-18 from the foul line, with the Seminoles’ free throw rate (67.4) well above the rate allowed by the Panthers in ACC play (39.9). With the Panthers not being an explosive offensive team points from the foul line and points off of turnovers (14-10 FSU edge) can be the difference between winning and losing close games.

Does Sunday’s loss mean that the Panthers are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament? No. The selection committee has to take 68 teams, and it’s difficult to think that there are 36 at-large teams better than the Panthers regardless of their non-conference resume. And it should be noted that Pitt’s best non-conference win gained some value on Saturday as Stanford knocked off No. 23 UCLA.

But Sunday’s defeat does mean that with four games remaining before the ACC tournament the Panthers’ margin for error shrinks ever so slightly. Three of those four games (Boston College, Notre Dame and Clemson) are on the road, with N.C. State visiting Pittsburgh on March 3.

Take care of business in those games and Jamie Dixon’s team will be fine. But a couple missteps could leave the Panthers with work to do going into the ACC tournament.