PITTSBURGH — In the first half of Wednesday night’s game, Pitt forward Blake Hinson posted an outstanding stat line: 28 points, 10-13 FG, 5-8 3FG, 1 assist, 3 rebounds.
“One of the things that was really cool about tonight, everyone knew in the first half, he [Hinson] had it going,” head coach Jeff Capel said after the game. “Blake had it going, and guys were finding him. There was genuine excitement to see him in that kind of rhythm.”
Found the hot hand 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/KDxCr7Aa7u
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 2, 2022
While he added just one point in the second half, Hinson’s ability to heat up from beyond the arch, as showcased in the first half, will be massive for the Panthers this season, especially while big man John Hugley is recovering from a knee injury.
After the win on Wednesday, Capel updated Hugley’s status, as well as William Jeffress’:
“I know they won’t be available,” Capel said when asked about the availability of Jeffress and Hugley on Monday.
With Hugley out, that leaves some question marks in the front court. Federiko Federiko has looked solid in Pitt’s two exhibition wins, but I don’t expect him to hold a big role for the Panthers once Hugley is back. With solid height and length, he seems like the most realistic option to start in Hugley’s place on Monday. However, against tougher competition than Clarion and Edinboro, the Panthers will have to look outside for scoring help, as Federiko may not be quite ready for the offensive production needed without Hugley.
On Wednesday, more than half of Pitt’s shots came from beyond the three-point arch. Whether it looks to Hinson or the veteran-loaded guard room of Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Greg Elliott, and Nike Sibande, Pitt is going to have to beat teams from the outside while its star big man is on the sidelines.
NIKE SIBANDE LOOKS FRESH ONE YEAR AFTER INJURY
Exactly one year prior to Wednesday night’s game, Pitt announced that guard Nike Sibande had torn his ACL in an exhibition game against Gannon.
Sibande rehabbed all year long and finally made his return to the court in Pitt’s first exhibition game against Clarion. On Wednesday, he once again returned to the floor for Pitt’s win over Edinboro, and this time, was the Panthers’ second-leading scorer.
“I was really proud of Nike for how he played and distributed,” Capel said after the win. “He drove, he played through contact, which is a big step for him in his progress back from the injury and missing all of last year. I think he’s just been going live, full contact, for about two weeks now. I think he is going to continue to get better and better. I thought he made some really good passes, some really good decisions, and really helped us be better offensively.”
Sibande posted 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, including 2 for 4 from beyond the three-point line. He hit both of his free-throw attempts. He also grabbed four rebounds, dished out an assist, and grabbed a steal. In the second half, Sibande finished a transition layup with a defender’s hand in his face, exciting the Pitt bench and the crowd.
CAPEL PLEASED WITH EXHIBITION WINS
After the win, Capel was asked if he was pleased with his team’s two wins so far during exhibition play.
“I am, I am,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m pleased.”
Pitt won its exhibition contests by an average of 45.5 points per game leading up to the season. Hinson led all Panthers with a total of 49 points across the two games, while Jamarius Burton added 22 points (total) and Nelly Cummings added 21 (total) in the two games.
“I’m excited about where we are,” Capel said. “We’ve been able to get to this point without hopefully any significant injuries that’s going to be for a year or anything like that. Guys have had great attitudes, and we’ve worked, and like I said, we will start for real on Monday.”
SEASON STARTS MONDAY
Game one is finally on the horizon.
On Monday, Pitt will take on UT Martin at the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m. EST.
The game will be televised on ACC Network Extra, with the radio broadcast on 93.7 The Fan.
UT Martin comes in as the preseason No. 296 team in the country, per Kenpom.com, while Pitt ranks No. 84 in those same preseason projections. UT Martin will look to former Panther Parker Stewart in his return to the Pete on Monday.