PITTSBURGH — Justin Champagnie is back, and did he ever make his presence known.
Champagnie made an unexpected, early return from his knee injury to lead the Panthers to an 96-76 win over Syracuse at Petersen Events Center.
Champagnie scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Panthers in both categories and secure his fourth double-double in seven games.
A sophomore wing from Brooklyn, New York, Champagnie was expected to miss six to eight weeks when he suffered a knee injury in practice before Pitt’s game against Louisville on Dec. 22. Instead, Champagnie returned just four weeks after his injury and was a critical part of Pitt’s victory.
Champagnie was as monster in transition, throwing down big dunks several times, and also was a force on the offensive glass, where he grabbed six rebounds. He also had one assist and two blocks while playing 34 minutes.
Pitt got off to another cold start, trailing by as many as nine in the game’s early going while the Panthers missed their first 10 shots from the floor, but a 15-4 Pitt run in the middle of the first half turned the tables, giving Pitt the lead.
In addition to Champagnie’s offensive explosion, Xavier Johnson had 23 points, going a perfect 13 of 13 from the free-throw line and Ithiel Horton hit 5 of 10 3-pointers to score 20 points.
Johnson added seven assists and Femi Odukale had eight as Pitt assisted on 20 of 31 made baskets. Au’Diese Toney added 18 points and five rebounds.
The Panthers have not swept the season series against the Orange since the 2015-16 season, when they won three game against Syracuse, two in the regular season and once in the ACC Tournament.
Pitt (7-2, 3-1 in ACC) will remain at home, as they’ll host No. 19 Duke on Tuesday night. That game will tip off at 9 p.m and be broadcast on ESPN.