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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Jamarius Burton Leads Valiant Team Effort to Down No. 25 UNC

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PITTSBURGH — Pitt earned their 10th win of the season with a 76-74 victory over No. 25 North Carolina Friday at the Petersen Events Center.

The win makes them 3-0 in ACC play, the best start since 2015-16 in the last year of Jamie Dixon as head coach. It is also their first ranked win since they defeated No. 16 Virginia Tech on Feb. 3, 2021.

Jamarius Burton Stars Once Again

Panthers graduate guard Jamarius Burton played one of the best games of his collegiate career against the Tar Heels. He scored a career-high 31 points on 14-for-17 shooting, 82.4%.

“Jamarius was unbelievable throughout the whole game,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said. “We rode him, he carried us. He made big plays. He defended.”

Burton stuck to what he does best, which includes driving to rim and either drawing fouls or finding space for the mid-range jumper.

North Carolina guards had no answer for his game today, as they either left him far too much room to make those mid-range shots or resorted to fouling to prevent him for scoring at the hoop.

“We just didn’t have an answer for Burton,” North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis said. “Nobody could guard him…He didn’t do anything special; he just drove it. He’s a guy that likes to attack the basket, attack the paint. He can make a 3 [pointer], but his strength is, he has athleticism, he is strong. It’s a problem. If you put a bigger guy on him, he’s quick and small enough to go around him. You put a smaller guy on him, he’s big enough to post him up and get to his spot and so we just didn’t have an answer for him, defensively, in one-on-one situations.”

Burton might not score 30 points every game going forward, but it’s clear his versatility provides so many problems for opponents. His play will continue to play an important role if Pitt are to continue their perfect conference play.

Blake Hinson Clutch Play in the End Proves Crucial

Hinson did not play a great game overall for Pitt against UNC. He shot 2-9 from 3-point range and had just nine points late in the second half.

He then scored seven of the last nine points for Pitt, starting with a 3-pointer with 1:28 left to put his team up three.

He also made all four free throw attempts to put Pitt up five at 74-69, giving him 16 points, second behind Burton.

Hinson also made a clutch play in the last game out against Syracuse on Dec. 20. Syracuse had a chance to take the lead late on, but Hinson stole the ball on the second-to-last possession of the game

For Pitt to continue winning important games, Hinson will need to provide clutch moments like he has done so recently.

Team Effort Propels Panthers to Victory

While Burton and Hinson played large parts in the victory over the Tar Heels, the Panthers saw contributions from every player that saw the court.

“Really proud of my team,” Capel said. “We fought for 40 minutes. We knew they were playing really, really well right now. They’re as talented as any team in the country, but we fought. We got down early. We stayed fighting.”

Graduate guards in Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott scored nine and seven points respectively, but also put defensive pressure on the Tar Heels guards.

Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande scored the final basket of the game, which proved crucial. Capel also praised him for his

“I thought a guy that really stepped up and kind of turned the game around for us was Nike Sibande. He was a guy that didn’t play much last game. I knew he that he would be important for us today. His energy, his driving, his passion, his finishing, his passing, all of those things were huge plays for us…Just really proud of him for staying with it.”

 

Federiko Federiko Fills in For Hugley’s Absence 

Sophomore center Federiko Federiko has played some important minutes over the past three games in place of junior forward John Hugley.

Hugley missed the first two games of the season after suffering a knee injury in practice in early October. He has not played in the last three games for “personal reasons” and Capel has not given a reasoning for his absence.

Federico has played 29 minutes against North Florida on Dec. 17, 23 minutes against Syracuse on Dec. 20 and then a season-high 34 against UNC on Friday.

He took on the task of guarding senior forward/center Armando Bacot, who stands 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds and made the First-Team All-ACC last season.

Bacot did score 22 points, but Federiko kept him out of the paint and forced tough shots from him and his teammates down in the post.

Pittsburgh Panthers center Federiko Federiko (33) December 30, 2022 David Hague/PSN

He grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and prevented Bacot from grabbing an offensive rebound in the second half. Federiko also led Pitt and made a season-high four blocks in the victory.

“Everyone being consumed with winning,” Capel said on players stepping up. “Period…It’s everyone. It could be a different player each night. Guys cheer for each other. They root for each other. They play for each other. If we can continue to do that, hopefully we can continue to have success.”

Home Court Advantage 

Pitt men’s basketball used to be the hottest ticket for sports in the city in the 2000s-early 2010s and the Petersen Events Center played host to many great games. A raucous crowd, thanks in part to the student section, the Oakland Zoo, propelled Pitt to wins and forced opposing teams to take into account their presence.

The arena lost that feel after poor years post Jamie Dixon and there have been many games with hardly any fans.

The Petersen Events Center was extremely loud on Friday and there were many students that showed up, even though they are still on winter break.

Even the bandwagon North Carolina fans, who travel as far as Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Wexford and Mars to support their “team” came nowhere near the noise level that Pitt fans kept up, especially late in the game.

Capel thanked the Oakland Zoo and the Panthers fans for showing up and helping his team get the important victory.

“Wanna give a big shout out to our fans especially the students that showed up in the Oakland Zoo,” Capel said. “For us to not be in school and no students here, it was an unbelievable turnout. We felt their energy. We needed their energy, and we fed off that energy. So really, really thankful for that.”

Pitt has two more ACC home games next week. They face off against a ranked Virginia squad on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. and then close the three-game homestead out with a visit from Clemson on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m.

The Panthers will need to use the crowd to an advantage, and after a great performance against the Tar Heels, expect more fans to show up and support the team going forward.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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