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Pitt defeats Northwestern, 72-59, to win Fort Myers Tip-Off Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Monmouth-NJ at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was another slow offensive start for Pitt but, as we’ve seen quite a bit, it was a slow start for their opponents, too. After a small 25-23 halftime lead, the Panthers got things going in the second half and pulled away for a 72-59 win.

The win moves Pitt to a respectable 6-2 on the year and gave the Panthers the Fort Myers Tip-Off championship.

Dare I say it but Pitt looked pretty good in the second half. They were active defensively and, despite some ill-advised shots, the offense flowed much easier than it had recently. Maybe not so much ‘flowed’ as shots just started falling. Justin Champagnie was the offensive star, scoring 21 points tonight. Trey McGowens added 15 and, while Xavier Johnson continues to struggle a little as a scorer, he continues to make an impact elsewhere. Tonight, he grabbed six rebounds and had eight assists to go along with 11 points.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Northwestern doesn’t have the look of a great team as I mentioned in the gamethread post. But Pitt is still finding their way around, too, and to beat two power conference teams back-to-back on a neutral court was still impressive in my book.

Much will be made of the second-half offense but what shouldn’t be overlooked is the Panthers’ rebounding in, really, both games of the tournament. We talk a lot about Pitt being undersized but they won the rebounding battle easily, 44-29 tonight. Against Kansas State on Monday, they outrebounded the Wildcats 40-30.

A good bit of that was thanks to forward transfer Eric Hamilton, who was a rebounding machine. He played 30 minutes on Monday, grabbing 12 boards, and hauled in another 12 tonight after getting the start. Hamilton also contributed offensively, scoring 23 combined points in these two games. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to take him out of the starting lineup at this point as he’s been a vital of the recent success.

Speaking of things that went right, it’s worth mentioning the defense again. Pitt held Northwestern to only 59 points tonight in another good showing on that side of the ball. A few games and maybe you attribute it to opponents just having an off night shooting. But the Panthers have routinely been keeping teams to low outputs and you have to start wondering if these guys are just really good defensively.

It’s probably too early to say that definitively but something to keep an eye on. Coming into tonight, Pitt was 28th in the nation in defense, allowing under 59 points per game. The 59 they allowed actually will bump that up a hair, which, well, is insane. They’re not forcing a ton of turnovers (they rank out of the top 100 in that category) but are out there mostly contesting shots and being active on defense.

As I said after the Kansas State game, this is a nice win for these guys. Like that one, it’s not going to be a benchmark win and Northwestern is not a great team. But eight games in, they’ve already got three wins over major conference opponents. Take out the head-scratcher in the Nicholls State loss and you’ve got a really great start to the season for a very young team.

The Panthers now get a bit of a break, facing Rutgers next Tuesday.

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