The Panthers put up a fight in their opening ACC Tournament game today against Miami. But Pitt came up just short, falling 79-73.
It was a back and forth game that was tied at 66 with under three minutes left. But down the stretch, the Panthers (10-12) simply ran out of gas. A shorthanded Miami team (9-16) with only seven players in the box score lives to fight another day.
Pitt was led by some unlikely sources with Femi Odukale finishing with 28 points and Nike Sibande adding 24. That pair was outstanding today, connecting on 20-31 shots from the field while each adding six rebounds. The Panthers’ offense as a whole, in fact, was quite good. The team shot over 48% from the field and made ten three-pointers.
But star Justin Champagnie was the unexpected weak link. Champagnie had a double double with 11 points and ten rebounds but had a terrible offensive performance, shooting only 5-20 from the field, including 1-8 from long distance. If this was his last game as a Panther it is one to forget.
Miami had a balanced attack that saw all of its starters get into double figures. The highly touted Isaiah Wong led their attack with 20.
While Pitt shot quite well and won the unofficial rebounding edge (37-36), they had other issues. The most glaring one was at the free throw line where they managed to shoot only 5-14. That was bad enough but the Panthers also got into foul trouble themselves and sent the Hurricanes to the line 28 times. Miami made 22 of those and, well, there’s your game. The Panthers also battled turnover issues with 14 of them while Miami (six turnovers) took better care of the ball. And for as well as Odukale and Sibande shot, they were each forced into four turnovers, contributing heavily to the team’s total.
Much is made of the team’s need for a true presence down low. But the Panthers also find themselves without a traditional point guard that can run the offense and make things happen without scoring. Underscoring that (excuse the pun) point, the Panthers had only nine assists all game long. A good point guard can get that on his own in some games and considering how well the Panthers shot, that’s a surprisingly low number.
The overwhelming sense I get (like most of you, probably) now is that this is a team with a few pieces but they are still at least a couple of players away from doing much of anything. I suppose that’s to be expected with the losses of Toney and Johnson but it’s going to be interesting to see the makeup of the team by next year.
Part of me is grateful that we had any sort of basketball at all during this pandemic. It was a welcome distraction and the emergence of Odukale, in particular, gives a bit of hope for the future. I don’t want to downplay that. This was better than not having basketball at all. But the losses of Johnson and Toney in the middle of the season, the losing by year’s end, the potential departure of Champagnie —
Well, this was mostly a year to forget despite all of the promise early in the season.