Pitt faced off against NC State on Sunday and the Panthers’ losing skid continued with a 65-62 defeat.
For Pitt (9-10), the story of the game was obviously the team playing without Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney, who have decided to transfer out of the program. Those two contributed a combined 28.6 points per game and their offense was clearly missed. But even without them, Pitt nearly pulled out a victory against NC State (12-9).
Even star Justin Champagnie had a subpar game. While he did contribute 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, he shot only 4-14 of the field and nearly half of his points (seven) came from the free throw line. But the Panthers were able to make things interesting thanks in part to some big games by other players.
Pitt got a big game from emerging guard Femi Odukale, who led all scorers with 18 points and an unlikely double double (11 points, 11 rebounds) from big man Terrell Brown, who played 33 minutes and had one of the better games of his career. Newcomer Nike Sibande got a start for Pitt, scoring nine points and playing 38 minutes. Also of note is that, while Will Jeffress contributed only three points today, he got a significant amount of playing time with 19 minutes.
You might have expected bigger games from starters Ithiel Horton and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly. But that pair combined for only three points, making a combined 1-6 from the field.
The final score showed only a three-point loss but Pitt had to fight back to get to that point. They trailed by 14 with 14 minutes left in the game before staging a comeback. First, Champagnie scored six straight points. Then, a three-pointer by Will Jeffress with 9:06 left cut the deficit to only three. But that was as far as the Panthers would make it. Pitt would cut the lead several times to only three points but NC State responded every time.
The key stretch came in the final six minutes. After a bucket by Brown, Pitt didn’t get another field goal until a dunk by Femi Odukale with 24 seconds left. The Panthers went nearly six minutes without a field goal and that ended up being a killer.
The game could provide a glimpse into what the future may hold for Pitt. The Panthers will try to add some players for next year and likely will be a factor in the transfer market. But they could lean more heavily on players like Odukale, Sibande, and Coulibaly, which, in the cases of those first two players, especially, is what they did today. That is especially true if they also lose Champagnie, who could leave early for the NBA Draft if his stock remains high.
Pitt kept things close today and with the recent lineup changes, that’s about all you could have asked for. But in the end, it’s still five straight losses for a team that has floundered since an exciting win over Duke in mid January. At that point, the team was 8-2 and flying high. They now sit at 9-10 and are under the .500 mark for the first time this year since losing the season opener.