DAYTON, OHIO- In what was a 40-minute coronary exercise masquerading as a basketball game, the Pittsburgh Panthers advanced to the round of 64 with a 60-59 win over Mississippi State. It was a team effort all around, fan support included. Nelly Cummings led the Panthers with 15 points and 4 assists, while Greg Elliott added 13 and Blake Hinson added 12. With this win, Pitt advances to face Iowa State on Friday in Greensboro. This marks the Panther’s first tournament win in nine years.
FIRST HALF RECAP:
Pitt’s first tournament contest since 2016 got out to a rapid start, with both teams rising to the occasion in terms of energy level. Mississippi State, despite being the worst three-point shooting team in the country, reeled off four makes in their first five attempts from beyond the arc to produce early momentum. They would end the half 5-15 (33%) from deep.
With Federiko Federiko sidelined with a knee injury, the Panthers inserted Guillermo Diaz Graham into the lineup, tasking him with stopping Mississippi State star Tolu Smith. In doing so, the Panthers continued to double down low, opening up opportunities from deep. D.J. Jeffries was the big beneficiary of this defensive alignment, making two early threes.
On the offensive end, the Panthers shifted towards more of a 5-out look, penetrating down low only on fastbreak opportunities. The pace of play seemed notably quicker early on, and the intensity was ramped up beyond what we had seen at any point in the regular season.
After going down 8-14, Pitt reeled off a 10-0 run, much to the delight of the royal and gold-laden crowd. Despite not getting much down low (as expected) the Panthers did find consistent success early from deep, going 8-13 (62%) in the first.
Pitt did so by turning defense into offense, forcing turnovers, and benefitting from some careless MSU mistakes. The Panthers won the turnover margin 8-2 and did well with what was handed to them, scoring 12 to the Bulldogs 2 points off turnovers.
Guillermo Diaz Graham had a half that’s hard to describe. On one hand, he couldn’t score to save his life. He was 1-7 from the field, completely unable to get anything going down low. The good news? Both he and his brother did an admirable of holding Tolu Smith in check. The Mississippi State star and first-team All-SEC forward finished the half with only five points, picking up two fouls in the process.
Mississippi State outscored the Panthers in the paint 16-2 and out-rebounded them 27-13, so it wasn’t all good on the defensive end, but Pitt did just enough to go into the half with a 35-34 lead.
Taking the lead to the locker room.— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) March 15, 2023
Making em' pay from deep, 8-for-13 so far pic.twitter.com/GGHRREFu10
SECOND HALF RECAP:
The second half began exactly how the Panthers didn’t want it to, as Jamarius Burton picked up his third foul less than a minute and a half into the contest, sending him to the bench after only playing 11 minutes in the first half.
With Burton sitting, an increased load was placed on the shoulders of Cummings and Sibande. Both answered the call amicably, Cummings especially. It was clear this contest meant a little something extra to him, made further evident by the icy confidence he exuded all game long.
The pace slowed notably as the second half drew closer to close, placing increased importance on each shot. After being so dominant from deep in the first half the Panthers took until 3:08 left in the game to make their first three of the second half (a massive three it was), a credit to the halftime adjustments made by Mississippi State’s Chris Jans.
Moments after being subbed on, Burton picked up his fourth foul on a charge call, sending him to the bench just as quickly as he came off of it.
A 3:00 long streak of no-field goals provided the chance for the Bulldogs to establish a more commanding lead, but they could only push the margin to as high as three.
Down 47-50 with just over nine minutes left in the game, Nelly Cummings hit a tough reverse layup before coming down hard and coming up limping on his ankle. Following a timeout Cummings came straight back out to the court, igniting the spark in the Panther faithful once more. It paid immediate dividends, with MSU passing the ball straight out of bounds no less than five seconds after the chants began.
Capel made the risky move to insert Burton back in with four fouls at the six-minute mark, and good lord did it pay off. Despite not being on the court for most of the night, he was there when it mattered most. Burton hit the shot of his life to put the Panthers up for good, 60-59.
With 00:10 left on the clock, the Panthers fended off three different shot attempts from the Bulldogs, including a massive block from Guillermo Diaz Graham that sent the Pitt faithful into a frenzy. With 2.6 seconds on the clock, the Panthers had to defend an inbound pass from underneath the basket and Mississippi State was presented with a perfect opportunity in the form of a wide-open corner three. If that wasn’t a clear enough opportunity, as time expired Mississippi State’s D.J. Jeffries put up a last-ditch tip that rimmed out. Survive and advance manifest right there folks, that’s what it’s all about. See you in Greensboro for Iowa State.