The first 10 minutes of Pitt’s loss to Duke on Tuesday night saw five-star Blue Devils freshman Vernon Carey, Jr. run roughshod over the Panthers’ frontcourt.
Senior Eric Hamilton and junior Terrell Brown were each given turns with that defensive assignment, and each ended up with two quick fouls while Carey collected a bunch of baskets.
It looked like a worst-case scenario for the Panthers, as their already out-gunned forwards might also end up out-manned, down to seldom used freshman Abdoul Karim Coulibaly.
But Coulibaly stepped into the void in a big way on one of the biggest stages in college basketball at Duke’s packed Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Malain freshman played a career high 35 minutes and finished with eight points and four rebounds. It wasn’t a statistical masterpiece, but the fact that Coulibaly was able to stay in the game as long as he did and defend Carey without fouling was a positive sign for the talented but raw forward prospect.
Jeff Capel has made it clear that he considers Coulibaly a work in progress this season, frequently citing the language barrier that the French-speaking Coulibaly as a reason to take things slow in his first season with the program.
But Tuesday night in Durham, he finally showed some glimpses of the talent level that made him a Malian international player and a prospect that was sought out by high-major programs.
With Hamilton in his final collegiate season and Brown about to be a senior, the future is the focus for Pitt’s frontcourt, and 2020 prospect such as four-star Ohio native John Hugley have dominated the conversation about who will earn more post minutes for the Panthers in the future.
But if Coulibaly can show the poise that he did on a huge stage on Tuesday and continue to develop his physical skills, he could force his way into that conversation as well.