Pitt defeated Gardner-Webb 67-50 on Saturday, but an otherwise standard non-conference game was made historic by the performance of Pitt small forward Justin Champagnie, who posted his second consecutive 20-point, 20-rebound game. Champagnie not only made history as the first Pitt player to post back-to-back 20-20 games, but he also placed himself in the elite company of two NBA stars.
More specifically, Champagnie scored 24 points and came up with 21 rebounds over a span of 32 minutes on the court. And on what was a slow day for the Panthers offense, he almost single-handedly willed the team to a win, as Xavier Johnson was the only other Pitt player to score in double figures. Champagnie also led the team with five assists, and his game overshadowed a solid showing from Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, who had a career-high nine rebounds to go with six points.
“It’s a big-time performance,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said of Champagnie's showing during his postgame press conference. “I’m probably more impressed with the five assists by Justin, five assists and only two turnovers — and two blocks. He’s a good player, and he has a chance to be a really good player.”
Champagnie was aware of the opportunity in front of him when he took the court on Saturday, and he said after the game that he aspired to repeat his outstanding 20-20 performance at Northwestern. He also noted that he was helped along the way by a teammate who pushed him to do more.
“In the first half, I had eight [points] and four [rebounds] at one point, and Nike [Sibande] told me, ‘Find a way to get five more rebounds or six more rebounds before the half ends,’” Champagnie said. “I got, I think, six in a row. So I had 10 and 10 at the end of the half. And then I said, 'I'm just going to go get [20 and 20] again,' and I just did."
With his second consecutive 20-point, 20-rebound performance, Champagnie joins former Purdue standout Caleb Swanigan and ex-Oklahoma star Blake Griffin as the only major-conference players to achieve the feat in the past 25 seasons. He is also the only ACC player to put on back-to-back 20-20 games in the last 25 seasons, and the only other ACC player with two in a season in that span is Tim Duncan, who played at Wake Forest.
Like Champagnie, Griffin also played under Capel, as the current Pitt coach was in charge at Oklahoma from 2006 to 2011. So both Champagnie and Capel made history on Saturday with rare achievements, as Capel’s ability to recruit and develop talent appears to have now captured lightning in a bottle at two programs more than a decade apart.
But now, with a place in Pitt and ACC history secured for Champagnie, who is averaging 19.4 points and 13.0 rebounds per game, the question is whether the rest of the team can rise closer to the Brooklyn native’s level to give the Panthers a fighting chance in ACC play.