PITTSBURGH — On Saturday, Nelly Cummings played in his first game in a Pitt uniform as the Panthers took down Clarion in an exhibition contest.
The Midland, PA native dropped 16 points on an efficient 5-for-6 mark from the field, including 2 for 2 from beyond the three-point arch. Cummings also dished out four assists and had a game-high six steals in the winning effort.
Now, we knew that Cummings would play a major factor for the Panthers when Pitt brought him in early in the offseason. However, his performance on Saturday afternoon — even though it was just an exhibition game — gave us a glimpse of how he plays with this group of Panthers.
“I am very comfortable running the point,” Cummings said after the game. Especially with those types of guys who set those good screens. They get me open, so I’m able to make decisions seamlessly when they’re setting screens.”
Many times throughout the game, Cummings called for a screen from one of Pitt’s forwards — oftentimes Guillermo Diaz-Graham and Federiko Federiko. His creativity, vision, and low center of gravity allowed him to navigate these ball-screen actions and make plays in a number of different ways. Cummings was splitting screens and driving to the rim himself. He was kicking it out to Diaz-Graham on the wing on pick-and-pop actions. He was dishing skip passes to shooters on the corner.
“I think it’s good playing with those guys,” Cummings continued. “They can do all of those things, they’re versatile. There is nothing on the court I feel like they can’t do. It’s definitely good playing with guys like that.”
Nelly Cummings and John Hugley are going to make for a tremendous pick-and-roll duo for Pitt…
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) October 22, 2022
With Pitt’s versatile lineup — one that included more shooters than it has had in recent years — Cummings had tons of options out of these ball screen actions while running the point. Once John Hugley — a massive, physical forward who can dominate the paint — returns, Cummings will have even more room to work and even more possibilities to work with from the point.
BLAKE HINSON IS A WEAPON
Prior to today’s exhibition game against Clarion, Pitt forward Blake Hinson had not seen game action against another team since the 2019-20 season when he played for Ole Miss.
Hinson, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward, returned to the hardwood on Saturday and wowed the crowd with four three-pointers, multiple buckets through contact in the lane, and spectacular defensive plays. The Florida native scored a game-high 20 points in the winning effort, hitting 6 of his 9 field goal attempts and all four of his free-throw tries.
— Pittsburgh Sports Now (@PghSportsNow) October 22, 2022
BACKUP BIGS GET THEIR CHANCE
Without Hugley (knee injury) playing in Saturday’s exhibition, Pitt looked to new Panther forwards Guillermo Diaz-Graham and Federiko Federiko for help on the inside.
Diaz-Graham opened the game with two made free throws, but was relatively quiet on the scoring end the rest of the night. However, he ran the floor, dished out three assists to his teammates, and grabbed four rebounds in the win.
Federiko shined in his role as a dunker, a “rim-runner” as Jeff Capel explained after the game. The Finland native scored ten points and grabbed ten rebounds, posting the only double-double stat-line of the day. While Federiko is not likely to play lots of minutes when Hugley is back healthy, it was certainly a positive performance in his first game in a Pitt uniform.
Jorge Diaz-Graham, who stands at 6-foot-11, also played a role in Pitt’s victory on Saturday. After the game, Jeff Capel described Jorge as a guard, as a perimeter player. Towering over other wings at 6-foot-11, the guard from Spain is sure to have a tremendous impact on the outside throughout the season and his career at Pitt.
“They’ve stepped up,” Capel said about the three-man group of Federiko and the Diaz-Graham twins. “They are unbelievable young men. They want to be a part of something. They’re easy to be around, they’re fun to be around, and all three of them are workers. It’s interesting, the guys on the team call them the triplets, they’re always together. They’re workers. Where it hurt us a little bit tonight, is that we haven’t worked on defending the post, because we don’t really have anyone to post. That’s an area that where we’ve got to get back and get some work in. But all three guys are good players, and they’re very different.”
ELLIOTT, HINSON LEAD STRONG SHOOTING EFFORT
One thing that recent Pitt teams have lacked is shooting prowess.
Last year’s squad ranked No. 284 in the nation in team three-point shooting percentage, making a grim 31% of its attempts from deep. Then, this offseason, Pitt went out and added some much needed shooting experience. On Saturday, Pitt fans got a glimpse of what a strong shooting team looks like.
Greg Elliott, the Marquette transfer wing, hit two of his three attempts from beyond the arch. He also went 3-for-3 on his two-point attempts. Cummings hit both of his three-point attempts as well. Overall, 5 for 6 from the field. Then there was the Ole Miss transfer, Hinson, who sank four of his seven three-point attempts and finished the day with a game-high 20 points.
Returners Nate Santos (2 threes), Jamarius Burton (1 three), and Nike Sibande (1 three) also each hit shots from beyond the arch. This new-look Panthers squad looks as though it will be as strong on the outside as it has been
LOOKING AHEAD/HUGLEY UPDATE
Pitt’s next exhibition game comes on Nov. 2 against Edinboro, another Division II opponent.
After that, the Panthers have their season opener coming soon on Nov. 7 against UT Martin.
After seeing the Panthers show off their versatility, scoring ability, and talent in full force in Saturday’s contest, Pitt’s focus now turns to getting Hugley back in the mix. The dominant forward, who averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds, injured his knee in practice weeks ago. After the game on Saturday, Capel updated Hugley’s status.
Hopefully before our first game against Tennessee Martin,” Capel said. We will probably know a little bit more next week. He is gets evaluated again on Tuesday. Hopefully we will have a better timeframe then.”