PITTSBURGH — Justin Champagnie once again produced ACC Player of the Year-type numbers on Saturday night, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. Usually, with a performance like that and solid performances from the rest of the team, Pitt would find itself in the game near the end competing for a win.
The only problem against Notre Dame? The rest of the team didn’t show up.
Against the Irish, Pitt only scored 58 points on a Notre Dame defense that had been ranked 14th in the conference in scoring defense heading into the matchup.
Champagnie, with his 19, accounted for 33% of the team’s scoring. While twelve other Panthers saw the floor, not a single one other than Champagnie could muster up more than nine points. Wing Au’Diese Toney, the second-leading scorer for Pitt this season, once again struggled, going 3 for 11 and finishing with eight. Xavier Johnson, the team’s veteran guard who is averaging 13.2 points per game, fouled out early and only scored five points in 19 minutes played.
“This is not about X, this is about us,” Capel said after the game when asked about Johnson’s performance. “We were bad. We were bad collectively as a group. One person wasn’t bad. Everyone on our team was bad. And so, it’s correcting everyone, not just X. He was not the only one out of control, we were out of control. This is not about one guy.”
As we saw in the Panthers’ first ten games of the season, when the big three goes, Pitt goes. In their last two games, Toney and Johnson have combined for just 15 points and 13 points, respectively. In those games alone, the sophomore Champagnie scored 23 and 19 by himself.
One thing that everyone can take away from these last two games is that if Pitt wants to compete in the ACC like it showed in wins against Syracuse and Duke, it is going to need all three to play at the top of their games, not just Champagnie.
CAPEL SEARCHING FOR THE RIGHT LINEUPS
Outside of the first ten minutes of the game, Pitt looked hopeless on the court on Saturday. The Panthers body language, communication, and hustle seemed to be at a season-low, and all of those combined with poor shooting resulted in possibly its worst loss of the season.
“We were just trying to find five guys to play hard. So it didn’t matter whether it was big, small, or whatever, we were just trying to find five guys to execute some of the things that we talked about,” Capel said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get those guys on the floor, we’ve got to figure out who our best guys are that are going to be able to do what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance to win.”
This game started off very fast paced, with the score quickly getting up to 20-19 Pitt within the first eight-and-a-half minutes of the game.
From that point on, Pitt was outscored 65-38 by Notre Dame. Not only did poor shooting (31.5% from the field) hurt the Panthers, but also the lack of chemistry on the court at times was evident. At one point during the second half, after Notre Dame opened the frame on a 9-0 run, Capel went with a smaller lineup. That group consisted of Johnson, Nike Sibande, Ithiel Horton, Champagnie, and Au’Diese Toney, not a player over 6-foot-6.
When that happened, it wasn’t like Notre Dame went down low every time and dominated in the paint against Pitt’s small lineup. The Irish found a way to still consistently get open looks outside and bury them when they had the chance, even when facing Pitt’s fastest and most athletic defensive lineups.
“They were able to get whatever they wanted,” Capel added. “Middle, baseline, transitions. Whatever they wanted, they were able to get.”
With freshmen William Jeffress and Noah Collier seeing the floor on Saturday for the first time in three games and walk-on Onyebuchi Ezeakudo playing extended minutes, it is clear that Capel is testing out new combinations and will continue to search for the right ones in order for his squad to get back on track.
XAVIER JOHNSON’S FOUL TROUBLE CONTINUES
In Saturday night’s blowout loss, Johnson only played 19 minutes, his second-lowest total on the season. While his numbers and multiple clutch performances suggest that he is having a very solid year, one area of Johnson’s game that he would like to clean up is his foul trouble.
Against Notre Dame, Johnson fouled out for the second time this season, the other being in the loss against Louisville. This was his fifth game of the season with at least four fouls, and it once again caused him to spend the majority of the game on the bench.
Everyone knows that Johnson is an emotional player, and that he uses that to thrive in many late-game situations, which is part of the reason he is such a strong player. However, tonight’s game was different. Johnson picked up his fourth foul of the game after missing a fairly open layup. After the whistle was blown, he reached in and poked at the ball being held by Notre Dame’s Nikola Djogo. The poke resulted in a few back-and-forth shoves from Djogo and Johnson to each other, eventually resulting in a technical foul for each.
Obviously, Johnson did not want to foul out. He is one of the most passionate players Pitt has seen in years and clearly loves the game and his teammates. However, there is something to be said about being such a valuable player and letting foul trouble get in the way of the team’s success. Pitt needs Johnson to be out there. Johnson wants to be out there. If the two want to have success, individually and as a team, Johnson will have to step up and stay out of foul trouble.
“This is not about X, this is about us,” Capel said. “We were bad. We were bad collectively as a group. One person wasn’t bad. Everyone on our team was bad. And so, it’s correcting everyone, not just X. He was not the only one out of control, we were out of control. This is not about one guy.”
PITT DOMINATED BY ND BEYOND THE ARC
On the offensive end, Notre Dame dominated this game from the ten minute mark up until the buzzer. The Fighting Irish made 13 of their 24 3-point attempts, a 54% mark. For a team that came into the game with only three players averaging double-digit scoring numbers, allowing them to have four different players score at least fourteen points is definitely something.
The craziest part about this is that Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame’s leading scorer who came into the game with the best shooting percentage in the conference, only scored seven points. The 6-foot-10 forward is known as one of the most consistent 3-point shooters in not only the ACC but also the entire country. But on Saturday, the rest of the Irish took down Pitt.
Notre Dame guard Prentiss Hubb went 5 of 7 from three. Cormac Ryan, who missed the last game against Virginia Tech. came back tonight and went 5 of 6 from deep. Add in one 3-pointer each from Trey Wertz, Dane Goodwin, and Djogo, and it becomes clear that the Irish dominated Pitt from beyond the arch.
Coming into Saturday night’s game, Pitt led the entire ACC in 3-point field goal defense, only allowing 28.2% of the opponents deep heaves to fall. However, after such a strong performance from the Notre Dame team from outside, it appears that Pitt still needs to tighten up their perimeter.
PITT CONTINUES TO GRAB OFFENSIVE BOARDS
One of the only positives that can be taken away from this game is the fact that Pitt once again won the offensive rebounding battle. The Panthers grabbed 17 to Notre Dame’s four, earning lots of second-chance opportunities because of this.
Champagnie alone grabbed the same amount of O-boards as the entire Notre Dame team, including a few that looked as if he was told where the ball was going prior to the shot.
Pitt is now averaging 13.5 offensive rebounds per game, good for second in the ACC behind only North Carolina.
The Panthers will look to do more than just rebound in their next game when they take on Virginia Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at Petersen Events Center. That game will tip off at 7 p.m. and be broadcast on AT&T’s Regional Sports Networks.