LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Au’Diese Toney made his first start in five games for Pitt on Friday night against No. 1 Louisville.
Offensively, Toney stumbled out of the gates in his sophomore season for the Panthers. After averaging 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2018-19, he averaged just 4.0 points per game in Pitt’s first four games.
Relegated to bench duty with the emergence of freshman wing Justin Champagnie, Toney played in under 20 minutes in four of Pitt’s first nine games and eclipsed 30 minutes just twice.
But he was back in the starting lineup on Friday against the top-ranked Cardinals, presumably inserted for his defensive prowess against Louisville star wing and No. 2 ACC scorer Jordan Nwora.
Nwora battled Toney to 19 points, not necessarily a grand defensive victory, but nonetheless under his 21.9 points-per-game average.
But while Toney was on the floor for 32 minutes battling Louisville’s best on defense, he also made a mark on the game offensively.
With Pitt trailing, 35-21 at the half, Toney started the second period with a put-back of a Champagnie jumper, his fifth rebound and first points of the game.
In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Toney grabbed two more boards, hit two field goals, earned a steal to set up an Xavier Johnson transition layup.
Pitt trailed by just five with just over nine minutes to play, when Toney, matched up one-on-one defensively against Nwora, knocked the ball away. The Pitt wing raced up the floor and dove on the basketball, but was called for an obviously incorrectly whistled foul.
After the foul, Toney’s fourth, Pitt’s bench was assessed a technical foul, and the game started to unravel for the Panthers with Toney on the bench.
But for the first 30 minutes of the game, Toney was everything the Panthers needed him to be against one of the top scorers in the country and even found his own game on offense.
If Pitt can get that version of Toney night-in, night-out, bothering opposing scorers, eating up rebounds and chipping in with some offense, they’ll be a much better team than they have been through the first 10 games of the season.=