It was evident that in their very first meeting ever, the Nicholls State Colonels (1-1) were more prepared to play a noon game. While the Pittsburgh Panthers (1-1, 1-0) were stymied by turnovers and missed shots, Nicholls State cruised to a 9-1 lead going into the first media timeout.
“They came fast, they came quick,” is how junior guard Ryan Murphy described the Colonels on-ball pressure and trapping.
However, fouls allowed Pitt to get back into the game. Still, Nicholls State kept a multiple possession lead thanks to their ability to attack and finish around the basket. They also paired their attacking offense with a 2-3 zone at times to help reduce their foul rate. Enter Murphy for the Panthers. His 11 first half points off the bench on 4-8 shooting helped keep Pitt within striking distance of their opponent.
A put back by sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney brought the Panthers within six of Nicholls State with just 1:49 left in the half. However, the Colonels made back-to-back three-pointers, and a jumper by senior guard D’Angelo Hunter as the half closed extended their lead to 10 points.
Nicholls State shot 7-14 (50%) from long distance in the first half, which saw them take a 41-31 lead into halftime. Pitt committed eight turnovers while shooting just 11-26 (42.3%) from the field, and even lost the rebounding battle, 16-17.
“Incredibly disappointed in us...we didn’t have the energy worthy of winning,” was head coach Jeff Capel response about his teams overall effort:
Murphy remained hot in the second half; he scored another six points on triples to keep the Panthers in it. Despite Murphy’s efforts, the Colonels stayed with the formula that gave them a halftime lead; they kept making layups and draining three-pointers. A Hunter splash from long distance at the 12:12 mark maintained his teams two possession lead.
Pitt threw their fair share of punches down the stretch, but Nicholls State always had a counter. After a breakaway layup by sophomore guard Xavier Johnson at the 4:05 mark, the Colonels went on a 7-0 run that seemingly (it did) put the game out of reach. The Panthers had one last spurt in them powered by Murphy and junior forward Terrell Brown, the other hero from Wednesday nights victory.
A layup by Brown with 1:13 left in the game brought Pitt within a possession, and a pair of free throws by Murphy in the last minute of the game brought the Panthers within one. But Nicholls State made free throws when it mattered most, and two late Pitt turnovers allowed the Colonels to come away with the road win, 75-70.
Murphy led all players with 28 points on 10-17 (58.5%) from the floor. The Panthers committed 21 turnovers as a team, something Murphy thought if they committed just four less, they probably end up winning the game.
Hunter and junior guard Andre Jones led Nicholls State with 17 points, while junior guard Kevin Johnson had 16. Like their game at Illinois on Tuesday, they managed 11 steals. They shot 11-24 (45.8%) on three-pointers for the game.
On Hunter’s big game and how he’s helped the culture of their team, head coach Austin Claunch said, “He adds an element of toughness on our team.”
The Panthers will look to rebound next week at the Robert Morris Colonials (0-2), as they open their new facility - the UPMC Events Center - on Tuesday.