WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Searching for their fourth straight win this season, and their first ever at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Pitt Panthers came up short.
Jeff Capel’s side made too many poor decisions and allowed the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to shoot at-will from three-point range. Despite leading for the majority of the contest, Pitt fell 76-75 to Wake Forest on Saturday in front of a sparse, small and masked crowd at the 31-year-old coliseum.
It marked the first ACC victory of the season for Wake Forest (4-6; 1-6 ACC) and the first-ever win in the conference for first-year head coach Steve Forbes, who spent five seasons at East Tennessee State before taking the reins of the Deacs this past offseason.
Pitt (8-3; 4-2 ACC) started the game off on a 6-0 run, but Wake Forest quickly closed the gap, largely due to the sharp shooting of Ismael Massoud. The 6-foot-8 sophomore connected on his first five attempts from behind the three-point arc and carried the Deacs in the first half. There was little Pitt could do to stop his quick trigger.
Wake tied the game at 33-33 with about two minutes to play in the first half, but Pitt went into intermission on a 12-5 run, sparked by a three-pointer from Justin Champagnie, who had an otherwise quiet first half.
Three-pointers from Wake continued to hound Pitt in the second half, but this time they were coming from Jonah Antonio. The Australian grad student scored 11 points for the Deacs in a span of about two minutes. Back-to-back three’s from him gave Wake a 63-57 lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
Massoud finished with a career-high 31 points while making 8-of-10 from three-point range. Antonio added 15 points for the Deacs. In all, Wake Forest shot 15-of-32 from beyond-the-arc, a 46.9% clip. Entering this game, Pitt had the fifth-best three-point defense in the nation, allowing opponents to make an average of 26.1% of their deep shots per-game.
After falling behind by as many as 10 points, Pitt switched to a zone defense late that helped it cut the deficit. With eight seconds left to play, Xavier Johnson connected on a lay-up in traffic, slicing Wake’s lead down to a single point. The Deacs turned the ball over on the ensuing in-bounds, giving Pitt a final shot. Operating from the top of the key, Johnson hit a crossover and fired off a long-range two-pointer, which bounced off the rim and into the arms of Wake’s Ody Oguama.
Johnson finished the game with 14 points, eight assists, three rebounds and two steals. Champagnie had 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals for Pitt. Abdoul Karim Coulibaly added 15 points.
The Panthers missed seven free throws and turned the ball over 11 times.
For Pitt, a win would’ve marked its fourth straight overall and fourth straight on the road. The Panthers haven’t won four consecutive road games in a single season since 2010-11. A victory would have also matched the Panthers’ best start to conference play since joining the ACC.
Alas, Pitt has nothing to celebrate, currently. The Panthers have to regroup and prepare to host the North Carolina Tar Heels on Tuesday.