As Pitt winds down its third season under Jeff Capel, it has two games remaining, on on Tuesday, and one on Saturday. Tuesday night’s game will be against Wake Forest, a team that took down the Panthers just over a month ago, beginning the downfall of Pitt’s NCAA tournament hopes.
Here are five things to know to get you ready for the rematch between the two ACC teams, which will take place Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at Petersen Events Center.
THANKS, TERRELL BROWN
Tuesday’s game will be senior day for the Panthers, who will be honoring the career of Terrell Brown. Brown, a Providence, Rhode Island native, came into Pitt as a part of the 2017 recruiting class. At the time, he was a 3-star prospect according to Rivals who only had two division one offers, one from Purdue and one from Pitt.
While fighting through coaching changes, uncertain playing time, and a pandemic, Brown rode it out and honored his commitment to play for Pitt for all four years of his college career.
“I am really proud of Terrell,” Capel said on Monday. “This generation of young people, a lot of times, they don’t stick things out when things become difficult or adversity hits. They have been taught that it’s okay to run, to leave. I’m not judging, blaming, or saying that it is bad, but it’s different. Gone are the days where you go through something really difficult and you stick it out, you figure it out, and you become better because of that. That is incredibly rare these days. What Terrell and that group that came into the University of Pittsburgh went through, was horrific, it was really really bad, the stories that I heard. I feel for every one of those guys that had to experience that, but I am proud of Terrell for sticking it out. There is something about the University of Pittsburgh and our program that made him want to continue to be here and I think he has gotten better because of that experience.”
Throughout his career, Brown has averaged 4.6 points per game and 3.6 rebounds per game, numbers that have decreased due to less playing time this season. However, after the roster shakeup last week, Brown’s role increased against NC State, where he scored 11 points in a season-high 33 minutes.
“I am happy for him that he has been able to play well, but I am really proud of him for how much he has grown as a man,” Capel added.
FEMI ODUKALE RUNNING THE SHOW
After starting point guard Xavier Johnson transferred out of Pitt last week, head coach Jeff Capel turned to freshman Femi Odukale to take the reins of his offense for the rest of the season.
In the loss to NC State, Odukale provided stability, consistency, and scoring for the Panthers, some things which they had not often seen out of Johnson in his junior season. The Brooklyn native finished with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 1 for 2 on 3-point attempts. And while one of his weaknesses all year has been free-throw shooting, the 6-foot-5 guard looked more comfortable at the line, going 5 for 7. He also dished out five assists and only turned the ball over once.
For a freshman whose minutes have been uncertain throughout a season like this one, those numbers are undoubtedly a bright spot for a depleted Pitt program. Odukale has now shown he can slash, pull up in the mid-range, and set up his teammates, all while not having a defined role until now.
“I think he has a chance to become a very good point guard,” Capel said. “The very first thing I’ve always felt, as a point guard you have to be a guy that unites and inspires people. The good ones, the ones you really want to play with, they believe in them, they want to follow them. There has to be a connection there. I think Femi has the ability to do that. That’s something he’s learning how to do. But I think naturally he’s a people person, I think people gravitate towards him. He has a skill set where he enjoys passing, and I think as he continues to get more experience and continues to learn more about the position, and how to play it at a very high level, I think he has a chance to do that.”
After such an unpredictable season for the Panthers, it is looking like they have found their guy at point guard for the future in Odukale.
FIRST WAKE FOREST LOSS STARTED PITT COLLAPSE
In Pitt’s Jan. 23 loss to the Demon Deacons, the Panthers allowed them to drain 15 3-pointers, including eight by Ismael Massoud, en route to a one-point loss. Massoud blew up for an 8-of-10 night from downtown, and finished with 31.
Other contributors for Wake Forest in that contest included Jonah Antonio, who scored 15, and Jalen Johnson, who dropped ten. The Panthers were led by Champagnie’s 17 points, Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly’s 15, and Johnson’s 14.
After that loss, Champagnie said something that sounds haunting to Pitt fans, now that a very similar result has occurred once again.
“Right after the game, we said this is going to make us or break us,” Champagnie said about last year’s collapse. “Last year, we came off a big win and then we lost, and then we lost eight straight. It broke us down. We don’t want to go through that again. Stay off social media. Just focus on us and get back in the gym tomorrow. We got a big one coming up.”
After heading into that game against Wake Forest at 8-2, the Panthers have now lost eight of nine.
JEFFRESS ONCE AGAIN FLASHING POTENTIAL
Against NC State, another player that stepped up to the plate and delivered a solid performance for Pitt was young William Jeffress.
The freshman played 19 minutes, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds along the way. Although those numbers are not eye-popping, it was definitely a good sign seeing Jeffress in the game late and gaining that valuable experience like he did early on in the season.
“His talent, like you mentioned first, but I think he has a really good basketball IQ,” Capel said on what he likes about Jeffress. “This is a kid that should be a junior in high school. He wants to be good, he is trying to learn how to be that. I had a really interesting conversation with him, probably about a week and a half ago, maybe a week ago. We were sitting down and talking and I was showing him some tape, and talking about some different things, and one of the things he said was, ‘Coach, one of the things I realized is that I don’t know how to work.’ It was just amazing to hear that honesty, that transparency and being that insightful for a young kid. Not making excuses, not pointing a finger, not blaming someone else, but looking internally and saying that.”
On the year, the Erie, PA native is now averaging 15.4 minutes per game along with 2.1 points and 0.7 assists. However, over the course of the rest of his career at Pitt, it is clear that as he becomes more comfortable with the level of play, he will continue to improve under Capel.
“He is really smart, I think he has a chance to be a really good player,” Capel said. “I thought his defense yesterday was very good, had a big time offensive rebound late, a three in transition. You know, he is just getting used to the college game, and especially when you’re that young like he is but I think he has got a very very bright future for us.”
BETTING, CHANNEL INFO
The spread for this game is currently set at Pitt (-2) according to popular betting service BetOnline. The moneyline, in favor of the Panthers, is set at Pitt (-135). The over/under is hovering around 140.5 points.
This game will tip off at 6 p.m. in Pittsburgh and will be televised on ACC Network.
After taking on the Demon Deacons in this Tuesday night matchup, Pitt will close out its regular season on Saturday at noon at Clemson.