PITTSBURGH — Pitt played a good second half and managed to break away from William & Mary to earn the 80-64 victory Friday night at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt finishes their three-game homestead with three straight wins and improves to 5-3 on the season.
First Half Struggles Continue to be an Issue
The Panthers’ struggled the most these past three games at home in the first half. They shot a combined 33-for-91, 36.2% in the first half and found themselves behind against the Alabama State Hornets and against the Tribe Friday night. They played much better offensively in the second half, as they shot 51-for-91, 56% and outscored their opponents 137-80.
“It’s frustrating, Capel said postgame about his team’s first game struggles. “It is. So, I don’t if there’s something we need to do. I really don’t know, but we have to search and figure out. As we move forward, the competition increases, starting on Monday. If you dig yourself into a hole the next three games that we’re going to play, it’s going to be difficult to get out of.”
It is encouraging to see Pitt improve their second half performances instead of losing games entirely, but it signals a worrying trend. Pitt only plays two mid-majors the rest of the season, as they begin a three-game road trip against Power 5 opponents and then head into ACC schedule.
Pitt will need to play more efficiently and shoot the ball better right from tip-off, instead of waiting until the second half to get things going. They will not get away with poor first half performances against better competition and will suffer big losses if they keep playing like this.
The Panthers have a chance to prove the doubters wrong and defeat some difficult opponents in the next two weeks. Improving in the first half and playing the game you want is a big part of the Panthers doing just that.
Nike Sibande Plays Important Part off the Bench
Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande has dealt with quite a lot since joining Pitt in 2020.
Sibande joined the program after transferring from Miami (Ohio) to start the 2020-21 season. The NCAA did not grant him immediate eligibility and he waited until that December when he got his chance to play for the team. He then suffered a torn ACL in an exhibition match prior to the 2021-22 season and sat out the entire year.
He did not play that well in the first four games of the season, but he is playing much better in these past three games. Sibande scored a season high 17 points in the win over Alabama State on Sunday and then 15 points against William & Mary Friday night. He also grabbed nine rebounds and got two steals defensively against William & Mary.
.@sibande_nike filling the stat sheet in the second half 📈
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 26, 2022
“It feels good,” Sibande said postgame on his performance. “Just excited. My team helped me and put me in position to be effective in the game…Just to help my team and put batteries in guys’ backs. Help find people and put people position to be effective too.”
With Capel solidifying his rotation to six or seven guys, Sibande coming off the bench and producing those type of outings is incredibly important.
His ability to use his 6-foot-4 height and length provides a different positive to Pitt’s game that the other guards don’t have. He gets rebounds with his long wingspan easier and his speed moving down the court allows him to score on the fast break and in the paint too.
Pitt will thrive if he plays like he has done in those two games, but he has also not had serious production outside of those games this season. If Sibande is more consistent, Pitt will have more depth and that will benefit them in tough games against top opponents.
Hinson Shows versatility Offensively and Defensively
Junior forward Blake Hinson continues to be the Panthers’ most versatile player on both sides of the court.
He shoots the 3-pointer, drives with ease to the bucket and moves like a wing that defends the perimeter and the hoop effectively.
Hinson scored a team-high 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line. He also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season, the first since the opener against UT-Martin. He leads the Panthers with 16.0 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game this season.
Blake with 🔟 points, 8️⃣ rebounds & an assist after twenty minutes of play 💪
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 26, 2022
Hinson is proving to be a solid piece after he transferred this offseason from Iowa State, where he did not play the past two seasons. He played for Ole Miss for two seasons from 2018-20, but is now showing that ability at a high level.
Pitt will need Hinson to continue playing this well if they want to achieve a postseason berth of some kind. His production right now hints that Pitt has that type of player to lead them back to relevance.
Defend the Paint
The Panthers struggled mightily to stop the Tribe from penetrating the paint, particularly in the first half and early parts of the second half.
William & Mary would use cutbacks and sharp passes to get through the Pitt defense and score high-percentage shots right at the hoop.
Junior forward Ben Wight saw the most production for the Tribe with this gameplan. He scored a team-high and a career-high 24 points on an effective 11-for-16 shooting and kept the Tribe in the lead in the initial minutes of the second half.
Pitt managed to cut down those opportunities in the second half en route to a 16-point victory, but that poor defending in the paint is worrying.
The Panthers need to find ways to not let teams in the future expose them so easily like the Tribe did. If they don’t make adjustments in the future, teams will have great games attacking the rim.
Hugley and Burton Need to Stay in Good Health
Junior forward John Hugley and Jamarius Burton finally completed two straight games where the duo started and played most of the game.
Hugley suffered a knee injury that kept him out of practice for weeks and the first two games of the season. Burton suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the Alabama State game on Sunday.
Burton scored a team-high 18 points and Hugley scored 17 points in the win over Fairleigh Dickinson Tuesday night, and they both scored 16 points each in the victory against William & Mary.
Pitt needs both players healthy and ready to go the rest of the season for this team to see serious success. Hinson said postgame that the team is improving and that it would be full strength if not for junior forward Will Jeffress. Capel said after the Alabama State game that it is unlike that he plays this year after suffering a foot injury.
“We get better every game as expected,” Hinson said. “We’re a good team put together. We just got to put it together as far as defensively and energy-wise.”
Burton is a veteran who is able to make shots for his teammates. He also shoots the ball effectively from mid-range and 3-point range and finishes well at the basket.
Hugley is an important presence down low on both sides of the floor. His ability to score in the paint allows for other players to flourish and for him to score vital points for his team.
The Panthers will hope that they stay healthy and at the top of their games as they head into a tough three games on the road against Northwestern, NC State and Vanderbilt.