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Pitt swept by Virginia with 66-61 loss at the Pete

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

Pitt faced Virginia at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday night looking to avenge a 57-56 loss to the Cavaliers on Dec. 3 and avoid a regular-season sweep. However, despite a solid effort early in the game, the Panthers allowed the Cavaliers to pull away late and suffered a 66-61 defeat.

The game got off to a languid start, with neither team able to get much going offensively. But the one strategy that worked out for Pitt early on was putting the ball in John Hugley’s hands. Five minutes into the game, when the Panthers trailed 6-3, Hugley was the only Pitt player with a made shot from the field. And three minutes later, he had willed the Panthers to a 9-8 lead, scoring eight of the team’s nine points.

Hugley’s outsized contributions would prove to be a theme as the game wore on. But as his production tapered off in the middle of the opening half, the Panthers leaned on the likes of Mouhamadou Gueye and Femi Odukale to keep them afloat and found themselves up 20-17 with four minutes to go until halftime.

Around that point, Hugley would become a factor again, putting Pitt up 22-17 with a layup. However, back-to-back turnovers by Hugley would see Virginia go up 24-22, and although he mitigated some of the damage with a three-point play in the final minute, the the Panthers would still trail 29-25 at the half.

Pitt would kick off the second half with an early push to even the score, and Hugley would spearhead that effort. Pitt achieved its goal in a matter of three minutes, taking a 34-33 lead on a three-point play by Hugley at the 17:08 mark. With the made shot and free throw, Hugley boosted his point total for the day up to 20. Meanwhile, the rest of the team had accounted for just 14 points after 23 minutes.

That one-dimensionality would hurt Pitt, as Hugley began to struggle with turnovers, fouls and accuracy. And Pitt’s issues would be compounded when Gueye was called for his fourth foul with 15:35 left in the game and sat for a while as a result of his foul trouble.

Virginia would capitalize on Pitt’s struggles, regaining the lead on a Kadin Shedrick jumper after Hugley’s three-point play and never relinquishing the lead again. Jamarius Burton would pull Pitt within one point of Virginia with a jumper around the midway point of the final frame, making it 45-44. But the Cavaliers responded with a Jayden Gardner jumper, a Francisco Caffaro dunk, a Kody Stattmann layup and a Kihei Clark three-pointer — all with no response from Pitt — to take a 54-44 lead with seven and a half minutes left.

The Panthers would continue to fight and would eventually narrow the Cavaliers lead, but in the end, their efforts were not enough to win them the game and they fell 66-61.

John Hugley finished as the game’s top scorer and rebounder, as he posted game-high totals of 23 points and seven rebounds. Jamarius Burton contributed 12 points on Wednesday, posting a double-figure point total for the 11th straight time, and Femi Odukale had 10 points and a fourth consecutive double-figure game. However, Pitt got just eight points from its four bench players, and while Onyebuchi Ezeakudo created six points on assists, he scored none himself in a span of 32 minutes.

With the loss, Pitt fell to 7-11 on the season and 2-5 in conference competition. Meanwhile, Virginia improved to 11-7 overall and 5-3 in ACC play. Pitt will look to rebound from the loss on Saturday, when it heads down to South Carolina to take on Clemson, a 10-8 team that has struggled to a 2-5 ACC record.