Pitt star Justin Champagnie entered Tuesday’s primetime tilt with Duke as the reigning ACC Player of the Week after an outstanding 24-point, 16-rebound performance against Syracuse, but he had his sights set on more.
Faced with an opportunity to match up with Duke standout Matthew Hurt, a Wooden Award candidate and ACC Player of the Year front-runner, he set out to get the best of him and rose to the occasion. And when the dust had settled, he had matched a personal best with 31 points and set another with a career-high five blocks. The Brooklyn native also set himself apart as a rising star with the potential to be crowned the ACC Player of the Year.
“Before the game, I kept saying to myself, ‘I don’t think he’s better than me,’” Champagnie said of Hurt in a postgame press conference. “And I went out there, and I kind of proved it.”
Early on, Champagnie appeared to be playing with a purpose, as he got off to a hot start, scoring eight of his team’s first 13 points and helping Pitt shoot out to an early lead. Along with Au’Diese Toney, he set the tone for the game and put the Blue Devils on notice that the Panthers were no longer an easy out.
By the end of the first half, Pitt had a 43-34 lead over Duke after entering the game as a 2.5-point underdog, and Champagnie had secured a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double. It was the second consecutive half in which he had posted a double-double, as he had amassed an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in the second half of Pitt’s 96-76 win over Syracuse on Saturday. It also happened to be his second first-half double-double of the season.
Champagnie did not take his foot off the gas in the second half, as he more than doubled his first-half scoring output in the final frame and topped the 30-point threshold for the third time in his career. And when all was said and done, Champagnie had amassed 31 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and one assist and placed himself in elite company.
Specifically, the last Panther to post a 30-point, 10-rebound game was Sam Young, who had 31 points and 10 boards against UConn in 2009. In addition, the last player to post a 30-point, 10-board, five-block game against Duke was Virginia center Ralph Sampson in 1983. The Cavs star would go on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft later that year.
As for Champagnie and the Panthers, they would go on to pull off a 79-73 upset of the Blue Devils, earning their first win over the blue bloods since Jamie Dixon guided a Pitt team fronted by Michael Young and Jamel Artis to a 76-62 win over Duke on Feb. 28, 2016.
Opposite Champagnie, Hurt was held in check, and his 13 points, six rebounds and three assists did little to offset the onslaught the Panthers small forward unleashed. And by the end of the game, Champagnie had passed Hurt on the ACC leaderboard for points per game, upping his average from 18.7 to 20.3 as Hurt’s fell from 19.6 to 18.9. The Pitt standout also boosted his ACC-leading rebound average from 12.9 per game to 13.0 per game.
Afterward, the college basketball world took notice of Champagnie’s performance, and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was among the first to tip his hat to Champagnie.
“Jeff’s team is very good, and they probably have a Player of the Year in the conference in Champagnie,” Krzyzewski said during his postgame press conference. “He’s terrific. He and [Au’Diese] Toney give them that toughness and experience that other guys can build off.”
In addition to Coach K, other luminaries of the sport and members of the media took the opportunity to praise Champagnie, as ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale described him as a superstar and Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports said on Tuesday night, “It is time to start talking about Justin Champagnie as a legitimate ACC Player of the Year candidate.”
Given all that, it seems Champagnie achieved the goals he set for himself on Tuesday night, which were to beat Duke, best Hurt and put the world on notice of his candidacy for ACC Player of the Year. But now, his focus will shift to extending his solid run of play as Pitt navigates the remainder of its schedule.
That schedule still includes matchups with ranked opponents, such as Clemson, Virginia and Virginia Tech, as well as a date with another blue blood in North Carolina. So Pitt's toughest challenges may well lie ahead. But with Champagnie on the court, each one of those contests has the potential to be a marquee matchup. And with Pitt still vying for a spot in the AP Top 25 as well as an NCAA tournament berth, the sophomore wing's best performances may have yet to come.