GREENSBORO, N.C. — Perhaps the most impactful thing that happened in Pitt’s first-round, 81-72 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday didn’t happen on Tuesday.
On Monday, Pitt freshman Justin Champagnie, the Panthers’ leading scorer and rebounder and one of the top in the league in the both categories amongst freshmen, was left off the All-ACC freshman team.
Champagnie took the snub in stride and turned it into fuel. In front of the vast majority of the voting media and coaches, he put on a clinic on Tuesday, scoring a career-high 31 points to lead the Panthers to victory.
“I wanted to make that team,” Champagnie said. “I felt like I should make it. I kind of felt disrespected when I found out I didn’t make it, but at the same time I used it as motivation and I just came out here and showed why I should have been on the team.”
Champagnie made the game’s first shot, finished the first half with a lucky dunk and scored his career-high 31st point on a free throw in the waning moments to set a career high. Champagnie was well aware he was close to the mark and had a pretty good idea Wake Forest was looking to foul.
“Yeah, that’s why I held the ball,” Champagnie said. “Murphy was telling me to him to give it to me so I said no, I’m going to hold it.”
His teammates were supportive of that effort, and they’re supportive of the idea that Champagnie belonged in the top tier of ACC freshmen, too.
“Honestly, yes, he’s top three, I’d say,” point guard Xavier Johnson said. “Cole [Anthony] is a dog and Vernon [Carey], he’s big. But [Champagnie] has been dominant, too, just like they’ve been all year. But you can’t go back and erase it.”
Even head coach Jeff Capel, generally reserved when it comes to hyping the individual achievements of his players, threw his support behind Champagnie as one of the league’s best.
“I think he’s been one of the five best freshmen in this league all year,” Capel sad. “I think his numbers show that. He’s been our leading scorer and rebounder all year. That’s a heck of a thing for a freshman. I think he was in the top 10 in rebounding all year, and so he’s had a heck of a season.”
Champagnie finished the regular season averaging 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. His 31 and six on Tuesday will kick those numbers up a bit.
All-freshman team or not, it’s been an impressive debut season. And Champagnie doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
“You’ve just gotta keep competing and getting better,” Johnson said. “Next year, he’s probably planning on being the ACC Player of the Year.”