If there were any doubts that Pitt small forward Justin Champagnie was back to 100 percent after his four-week injury layoff, they were dispelled by the second half of Saturday’s 96-76 win over Syracuse at the Petersen Events Center, as the Brooklyn native put on a show and led Pitt to its second consecutive victory.
Champagnie got off to a slow start in the matchup, not posting his first points until the 11:44 mark of the first half. But in the second half, he led the Panthers on a 9-1 run that allowed them to retake the lead, and he secured a double-double with 10 minutes left in the game. That was thanks in part to three thunderous dunks that brought the Pitt bench to its feet as well as a renewed aggression at the rim. And as a result, Champagnie more than doubled the six points and six rebounds that he posted in the first half.
All told, Champagnie finished his first game back from an LCL injury with a team-high 24 points and 16 rebounds. And to clarify how immaculately Champagnie closed out the game, 18 of his 24 points and 10 of his 16 boards came in the final 20 minutes. So had he sat out the first half, he would have still had a solid overall game as well as his fourth double-double of the 2020-21 season.
Now, with seven games under his belt, Champagnie has upped his already impressive averages from 17.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game to 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Both averages lead the team, and they are among the very best in the ACC. In fact, Champagnie’s 12.9 rebounds per game comfortably leads the ACC, while his 18.7 points per game rank second only to Duke power forward Matthew Hurt’s 19.6.
With Champagnie back and quite clearly no worse for wear, Pitt is looking better than it has in a long time. And that bodes well for the Panthers as they prepare to take on a 5-3 Duke team that looks unusually frail, as it has dropped every game it has played against a ranked opponent this season. Pitt has not beaten Duke since 2016, but with Champagnie and a handful of other contributors taking their games to new heights, the upcoming contest could be the most competitive tilt in years. And the sophomore star may just be the man to lead the Panthers to a statement win.