Pitt squared off with NC State at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon looking to build on the momentum created by their 56-51 upset of Florida State on Wednesday, and the Panthers managed to pull off a 71-69 win in a thriller that came down to the wire.
In a welcome change of pace for Pitt, John Hugley opened the scoring for his team with a layup, responding to a Dereon Seabron dunk that put the first points on the board. Two possessions later, Hugley put on a fierce showing in the post, eventually gathering two offensive rebounds, drawing a foul and sinking both of his free throws to give Pitt an early 4-2 lead. Five minutes later, the game would be tied at 11-11, and Hugley would break the deadlock with a layup through contact and a made foul shot to make it 14-11.
However, despite Hugley’s hot start, NC State was unrelenting in its offensive efforts, and by the midway point of the opening half, the score was knotted at 18-18. Things would then begin to spin out of control for Pitt after a dunk by William Jeffress gave the team a 22-21 lead. After that play, the Panthers would go cold offensively and turn the ball over twice, leading to threes by Thomas Allen and Cam Hayes and a Casey Morsell dunk that made it 29-22, NC State, with under five minutes left in the half.
Pitt would close out the half on a cold streak from the field that lasted almost eight minutes. However, with periodic trips to the foul line, the Panthers would add four points to their total and trail the Wolfpack 31-26 at halftime. And at that point, Hugley led the team in scoring and rebounds, with nine points snd six boards, and Jamarius Burton ranked second on the team in points, with six. Meanwhile, Allen led NC State, with nine points on three three-pointers.
The Panthers would come out of the halftime break more energized and determined than they went into it, and less than two minutes into the resumption of play, they had tied the game 31-31 on a Burton triple and two free throws by Hugley. And three minutes into the half, Pitt would hold a 34-33 lead, thanks to a three-pointer by Ithiel Horton. Hugley would also continue to influence the game despite drawing double teams from NC State, as he used their overaggressive defense to set up a dunk by Mouhamadou Gueye that would make it 36-33, Pitt, about four minutes into the half.
Five minutes into the second half, NC State appeared to be in trouble, as the team had two points from Seabron, its top scorer this season, and zero from Terquavion Smith, its second-best scorer. Meanwhile, Pitt had put the first half in its rearview and went on a 19-4 run to take a 45-38 lead. That run saw NC State switch to a zone defense, which Pitt immediately bypassed, as Hugley drew a double team and dished a backdoor pass to Burton for an easy dunk. And it was capped off by a confidently taken three by Gueye.
Unfortunately for Pitt, NC State would not fold despite the increasingly one-sided nature of the game, and moments later, the Wolfpack had pulled within one point of the Panthers, with the score 47-46, Pitt, at the midway point of the final frame. NC State would then take a 48-47 lead on a Seabron dunk. However, Hugley would then respond with a mid-range jumper to make it 49-48, Pitt, in a tight contest.
The game would remain close, and with five minutes left to play, it would be tied at 55-55. Pitt would regain the lead on two made free throws by Hugley, and he would preserve the lead with a block on NC State’s next possession. However, a lapse in focus by Femi Odukale would lead to a turnover and a three-point play by Seabron that reclaimed the lead for NC State. Odukale would answer with a dunk, but Seabron would cause Gueye to foul out on the next play. Hugley would return the favor, drawing Ebenezer Dowuona’s fifth foul on the following possession. And once the dust had settled, it was 61-60, Pitt, with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
A Horton layup would make it 63-60 with 1:12 left, and after he was taken down hard by Smith on a breakaway dunk attempt, he put the Panthers up 65-60, with two made free throws. Jericole Hellems would hit a three to pull NC State within two with 28 seconds left. Another Horton layup would give Pitt 67 points, and another Wolfpack three would give them 66. Horton and Hugley would then hit four late free throws for Pitt, while Seabron would answer with three and an intentional miss off the rim for NC State. However, Burton would grab the rebound to secure a 71-69 Pitt win.
John Hugley led Pitt in scoring and rebounds, as he posted a 21-point, 10-board double-double. He was joined in double figures by Jamarius Burton and Ithiel Horton, both of whom had 17 points in the game. Meanwhile, NC State had three players reach double figures as well, but their efforts were not enough to upend Pitt on its home court.
With the win, Pitt improved to 10-16 on the season and 5-10 in ACC play. Meanwhile, NC State fell to 10-16 and 3-12 in conference competition, solidifying its position at the bottom of the ACC standings. The victory was Pitt’s first over NC State since Jan. 4, 2014, and it snapped a 12-game losing streak in the team’s series with NC State. It was also Jeff Capel’s first win over the Wolfpack as Pitt’s head coach. Now, with two straight upset wins in the books, Pitt will look to add a third when it faces North Carolina on Wednesday.