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Femi Odukale, Nike Sibande shine in larger roles for Pitt

The backcourt duo combined for 52 of the Panthers’ 73 points against Miami

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

Pitt’s tumultuous 2020-21 season came to a close on Tuesday afternoon, as the team fell to Miami 79-73 in the first round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. But the loss at least provided some hope for the future, as Pitt got outstanding performances out of Femi Odukale and Nike Sibande, both of whom will be leaned on heavily in the fall.

The backcourt duo combined for 52 of the Panthers’ 73 points on Tuesday, with Odukale leading the way with a career-high 28 points and Sibande coming up with a season-high 24. Odukale was particularly effective driving to the rim and went 9-for-13 on two-point tries, while Sibande poured in a handful of highlight-reel shots over the course of a 5-for-8 shooting performance from beyond the arc.

Odukale’s performance was not just the best of his career, but it also marked a first for him, as he had yet to score 20 points in a game as a college athlete until Tuesday. As for Sibande, who led Miami (Ohio) in scoring for three straight years before transferring to Pitt, the 20-point game was the 28th of his college career but just the second that he recorded at Pitt.

In both cases, the increase in production appears to be a byproduct of an increase in minutes, and that figures to be an ongoing trend for both Odukale and Sibande as Pitt looks to replace the production of departed stars Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney.

Odukale and Sibande have both performed at their best in starting roles and more specifically when given 30 or more minutes on the floor. In the five games Odukale played 30-plus minutes, he averaged 15.2 points, 2.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game and shot 58.3 percent from three-point range. And in the four such games for Sibande, he averaged 17.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 45.8 percent from long range.

So while the two first-year contributors for Pitt each averaged under seven points per game over the course of the season, those figures do not reflect the roles they will fill moving forward. And given the heights Odukale and Sibande reached late in the season once their minutes were increased, it seems there is much to look forward to next season.