The Pitt men’s basketball team was faced with its first real test of the season on Wednesday, as it played St. Louis, the favorite to win the Atlantic 10, as a four-point underdog. But in a close matchup that featured 12 lead changes, the Panthers defeated the Billikens 75-73 on a neutral court in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, New York.
While the story of the day was undoubtedly freshman guard Xavier Johnson, who reached 20 points for the second game in a row amid an incredible start to his collegiate career, an offseason addition who has kept a lower profile this season suddenly emerged in a big way for Pitt in Wednesday’s game.
That addition was New Mexico State graduate transfer Sidy N’Dir, who checked in during the first half when Johnson found himself in foul trouble. N’Dir put on Pitt’s most efficient performance, as he shot 5-for-8 from the field, converting a team-high 63 percent of his attempts. He was also one of the team’s top contributors, with 13 points and a team-high three assists.
In addition to putting on a noteworthy performance statistically, N’Dir also came up with a few key plays that energized the team and gave Pitt an edge in the tightly contested game. Among those plays was an assist on a fake layup that drew three defenders, opening up Malik Ellison for an easy score. But N’Dir’s play of the game was an authoritative dunk that capped off the first half.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel applauded N'Dir's effort against St. Louis during a postgame interview with Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
”I thought Sidy was amazing,” Capel said. “He played 26 minutes, really did a great job in the first half. ... He was an ‘older guy’ today. He was the guy that we recruited. And Sidy and I had a long talk on Sunday, and one of the things I talked to him about was I felt like he was getting in his own head instead of just going and playing. We talked about that, and I thought he gave us such a jolt in this game just by his presence out there.”
If this performance from N’Dir turns out to be the start of something rather than a flash in the pan, it could provide Pitt with a boost in terms of senior leadership, something the team will desperately need as it begins its conference slate in January.
While the win over St. Louis is certainly one worth celebrating, the path ahead for Pitt only gets tougher, as the team is set to face No. 20 Iowa on the road next Tuesday. Then, on Dec. 8, Pitt will meet West Virginia in Morgantown for this year's iteration of the Backyard Brawl.