Pitt was forced to face Louisville without its head coach on the sidelines or its top two scorers in the game, as Jeff Capel was out after a positive COVID-19 test and Justin Champagnie and Au’Diese Toney were ruled out with injuries. And although the Panthers fell to the Cardinals 64-54, the team got a breakout performance out of Femi Odukale.
The 6’5”, 185-pound point guard scored 16 points in the game, with 12 points coming in an 18-6 run that concluded the first half. Odukale’s night began with back-to-back three-pointers with about eight minutes remaining in the first half. It seemed that those shots ignited the Pitt offense, as Noah Collier and Ithiel Horton also chipped in to help cut Louisville’s lead to 30-28 at halftime after the team had been down 24-9 with about 10 minutes left in the half.
However, after Odukale’s first-half showing, Louisville refused to concede the lead in the second half. And every time Pitt edged closer, Louisville went on a run, with David Johnson, in particular, answering the call. And when all was said and done, the Cardinals had topped the Panthers for the win, and Johnson had bested Odukale to post a game-high 17 points.
As for Odukale, he finished second in scoring in the matchup after averaging 2.2 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists though the team’s first six games. The Brooklyn native also quadrupled his previous scoring high, which was his four-point showing against Miami, and added three rebounds, one assist and a game-high three steals that nearly matched Louisville’s four takeaways in the game.
“One of the bright spots was Femi because he came in the first half when Xavier [Johnson] got in foul trouble and he gave us a lift,” Pitt associate head coach Tim O’Toole said after the game. “When Femi came in, it gave us a huge lift. And it was a tremendous thing for us, especially going forward because you get productivity out of the young guys. This was another ‘Welcome to the ACC’ [moment], especially for the freshman, because it’s the new guys that are the next guys up.”
The new guys were indeed the next men up for Pitt on Tuesday night, as Pitt’s six first-year players averaged 25.7 minutes in the matchup with Louisville. And in contrast, the four Pitt men who had at least one season in Pittsburgh under their belts averaged 11.5 minutes.
Moving forward, Pitt will hope to get more performances like Tuesday’s out of Odukale as well as some assistance from his fellow first-year players, none of whom scored in double digits against Louisville. And how the Pitt coaching staff fares in coaxing big games out of its young talent will likely dictate how well the Panthers perform with Champagnie sidelined for the next several weeks.