Coming into the season, everyone around Pitt hoops talked about the team’s new transfer additions.
While the transfers were the big story of the offseason, it seemed as though one player, a former transfer, was not talked about often.
Nike Sibande, coming off a torn ACL that held him out for all of last season, quietly rehabbed his way back to full strength and has been a tremendous piece for the Panthers this year coming off the bench.
“It’s been huge,” head coach Jeff Capel said about Sibande’s production as of late. “It’s more than that. It’s the passes, it’s the force that he’s playing with, the athleticism, the pop again, the strength that he’s playing with. He’s defending. On the perimeter, he gives us another, we think, really good defender on the perimeter. He’s making great decisions. I am just really happy for him. Coming back from that injury, being out for so long and trying to find his way back, at times maybe doubting himself or not sure what his role is.”
Sibande’s role has increased as the season has gone on for the Panthers. Coming off the bench in all eight games, he started off the year a bit slow. In game one, he scored six points. Then, in Pitt’s three losses, Sibande failed to score a single point in each game. However, in Pitt’s current four-game winning streak, Sibande has posted games of 17, 3, 15, and 11 points, shooting 35% from three-point range during the streak. His ability to create, to give Pitt instant offense, has been huge for a Pitt team that is still figuring out its identity.
“He and I talked, and his role is just to be a really good player,” Capel continued. “He’s a guy that whether he starts, comes off the bench, I look at him as a starter. I think we have six starters, and he’s a guy that’s in that mix. He came in the game in the first half, and I don’t think I took him out once I brought him in in the first half. He impacts the game in a lot of ways.”
In Monday night’s win over Northwestern, Sibande picked up the Panthers from the moment he checked in. While both teams were struggling to find offense early, Sibande came off the bench and hit his first two three-point attempts from the wing, keeping Pitt in the game as it figured out the Northwestern defense.
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He finished the night with 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range. Sibande also hauled in four rebounds, dished out four assists, grabbed a steal, and did not turn the ball over once. Sibande has become an integral piece of this team that will continue to look all over for production from its well-balanced personnel.
“There are things that Nike can do that the others can’t,” Capel continued. “That’s one of the things that he and I talked about. I don’t want Nike trying to be Greg or Nelly or JB, we need him to be him and play to his strengths. When we put this team together, we thought he would be a very important part of it. He didn’t get off to a good start, but he stayed with it and he’s playing really well right now. I’m very, very happy for him.”