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Pitt falls to Minnesota 54-53 in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

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NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt faced Minnesota in an ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night looking to right the ship after a 2-4 start. However, the Golden Gophers proved too tough an out for the Panthers, and they escaped with a 54-53 victory on a last-second putback.

Neither of the two teams asserted its dominance to any great effect in the opening half, and the contest would be just under four minutes old before Minnesota opened the scoring with a made layup by Payton Willis. Prior to that, the two teams combined for 10 missed shots, four fouls and one turnover.

Despite Minnesota bringing an end to the scoreless stretch, it was Pitt that seemed to finally be awakened by the appearance of points on the board, and within two minutes of the Golden Gophers’ opening bucket, the Panthers had shot out to a 7-4 lead. However, over the next few minutes, Minnesota would get a boost from Jamison Battle and Eric Curry, who combined to score 11 points and regain the lead for the Gophers with a 13-4 run. That would leave the Panthers trailing 17-11, with under 10 minutes left in the half.

That lit a fire under John Hugley, and he would close out the half on an 11-point scoring streak capped off by a buzzer-beating three-pointer that put the Panthers up 24-22. All told, Hugley accounted for 15 points in the first half, including Pitt’s first four points and final 11 points, and the team’s reliance on the sophomore star would become a theme.

Hugley would open the scoring for Pitt in the second half, getting to the line twice early and sinking three foul shots. And after a made layup, Pitt would have a 29-22 lead, thanks solely to the sophomore. However, Minnesota would fight its way back into the game, and the second half would devolve into a back-and-forth battle with seven lead changes, including four in a span of about one minute.

The Panthers would weather that first flurry of lead changes and come out on top, with the team eventually pulling out to a 42-34 advantage with just under 10 minutes left to play. However, Battle would knock down two three-point shots and a jumper to knot the score at 42-42 and give Minnesota new life. That would set up a footrace to the finish, and with Hugley cooling down late in the game, that would prove disastrous for Pitt.

Although Pitt would find itself with a 53-50 lead with three minutes left, the team would be unable to add to that total, and Minnesota would capitalize. A tip-in by Willis would cut the Pitt lead down to one with 39 seconds left, and an errant shot by Jamarius Burton would give the Gophers the ball once again. After a timeout, E.J. Stephens would miss a layup, but a Luke Loewe putback would put Minnesota up 54-53 lead with 2.4 seconds left on the clock. And with Pitt unable to answer, it would go down as the game-winner.

With the loss, the Panthers fell to 2-5 on the season, marking the team’s worst start through seven games in the Jeff Capel era. The poor start is also worse than anything seen in Kevin Stallings’ two seasons as Pitt’s coach, as the Panthers started 6-1 in the 2016-17 season and 3-4 in the 2017-18 season. The team that started 3-4 would go 8-24 on the season, leading to Stallings’ dismissal.

For its next matchup, Pitt will head to John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville to take on Virginia in its ACC opener. And after that, the team will head back to Pittsburgh for matchups with Colgate and Monmouth.