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Nike Sibande rises to occasion as top scorer for Panthers

The Miami (Ohio) transfer had 23 points and nine rebounds in Pitt's 70-57 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday night

Pitt faced Wake Forest at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night, and once again, it got a major contribution from an unexpected source, as Nike Sibande led the team in scoring, with 23 points. This time, though, the contribution was part of a winning effort, as the Panthers earned a 70-57 win over the Demon Deacons, evening out to a 10-10 record and snapping a five-game losing streak.

In just the fourth game this season that the Miami (Ohio) transfer saw the court for more than 15 minutes, he put up stats comparable to Justin Champagnie’s, as he had nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block to go with his 23 points. For comparison, Champagnie had 20 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks in the Senior Night win, and he once again distinguished himself as the program’s brightest star, as he secured his 13th double-double of the season.

Sibande’s performance on Tuesday was just the latest display of promise from the former MAC standout, as he has made the most of the chances given to him. Those chances were few and far between for much of the season, but in the wake of the recent departure of Au’Diese Toney, Sibande has been leaned on heavily and has demonstrated that he could be a major playmaker for the Panthers for the remainder of this season and next season as well, provided he decides to return in the fall.

That’s a possibility that has been floated by Sibande, who did not walk on Senior Night, and it was given further credence by Pitt head coach Jeff Capel after the team’s victory.

“There’s a chance [Sibande could return next season]” Capel said after the game. “We talked to him, and he didn’t want to [walk on Senior Night]. So that decision will be made at the conclusion of the year. But there’s a chance.”

If Sibande takes advantage of the extra year of eligibility on offer from the NCAA for all winter sport athletes, Pitt would stand a far greater chance of weathering the storm sparked by the sudden exits of Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson. And if Justin Champagnie decides to enter the 2021 NBA draft, as many have speculated that he might, then Sibande’s return would become all the more important, as he is the only other player on Pitt’s roster who has flashed the potential to become a primary contributor for an ACC program.

With that said, Sibande’s future at Pitt remains unclear, as no definitive word on his status for next season has been provided by the program. So his 23-point, nine-rebound performance and the 12-point, seven-board game he had against Florida State could just be the closing salvo of a career that recently saw Sibande reach the 1,500-point threshold ⁠— or it could be the start of something special in Pittsburgh.