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Justin Champagnie Scores 22 as Pitt Routs Northern Illinois, 89-59

Justin Champagnie Scores 22 as Pitt Routs Northern Illinois, 89-59

PITTSBURGH — Pitt only had four non-conference game scheduled when the Panthers initially released their 2020-21 slate.

After the Panthers lost their season opener to St. Francis and were less then awe-inspiring in an 11-point win over Drexel, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel went out and got another opponent for his Panthers in the Northern Illinois Huskies.

In Pitt’s third game, the Panthers much more closely resembled the team Capel wants them to be.

The Panthers found their wayward 3-point stroke, dominated on the glass, took care of the basketball and sophomore Justin Champagnie broke out for 22 points as the Panthers ran away from NIU, 89-59.

In Pitt’s first two games, the Panthers shot 25 and 26 percent from 3-point range, respectively. Against NIU, the Panthers took off, hitting 13 of 27 from long range, or 48%.

It was a total team effort, with four players canning a 3-point shot, but sophomore guard Ithiel Horton was the big difference maker. Horton came to Pitt as a transfer from Delaware with a reputation as a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter, but he hadn’t necessarily showed that to the Panthers faithful in his first two games.

Saturday, Horton broke out, hitting 5 of 10 from long range for 15 points afters scoring 10 points combined in the first two games.

Champagnie added on with 4 of 6 from long range after combining to go 1 for 6 in the first two games. He added 10 rebounds to his 22 points for Pitt’s first double-double of the season.

Pitt cleaned up some other areas of its game, as well. Capel said he wanted his team to work on its defensive rebounding, and they cleaned up on the glass against NIU. Pitt out-rebounded the Huskies, 39-33 in total and landed 25 of 35 defensive rebounds.

The Panthers did not play great field-goal percentage defense in the first half, with NIU shooting 50% from the floor, but Pitt tightened that up and held the Huskies to 25.9% in the second half.

Throughout the game, Pitt was opportunistic in creating and taking advantage of turnovers. The Huskies turned the ball over 18 times and Pitt was able to create 33 points off those turnovers. NIU had just three.

With the game lopsided in the second half, Pitt’s large freshman class got plenty of playing time, with Femi Odukale, Noah Collier, John Hugley and Will Jeffress all playing more than 10 minutes.

Pitt will continue its season on Wednesday night when the Panthers will visit Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with a 9:15 p.m. tip-off.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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