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Pitt Basketball

Five Takeaways: Pitt Basketball is Back on the National Radar

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PITTSBURGH — After starting the season 1-3 in year five of the Jeff Capel era, it appeared as though Pitt would once again have a rough season and be forgotten in the minds of national basketball fans and analysts.

However, on Tuesday night, as the Panthers closed out their fifth-straight victory, the exact opposite now seems the case.

The Panthers are officially back on the national basketball scene after their win over No. 11 Virginia extended their winning streak to five and improved their ACC record to 4-0.

Pitt looked to the usual leading scorers for production on the offensive end. Blake Hinson hit some huge threes, en route to a team-high 16. Jamarius Burton added 15. In addition, Nike Sibande came off the bench and scored a loud 16 points to tie Hinson’s team lead.

Despite Virginia’s strong start, the Panthers powered through the Cavaliers tight-knit defense and regained the momentum through a massive 14-0 run minutes into the second half.

Pitt was already looking good as of late. A 10-4 start with a win over No. 25 North Carolina and two road ACC victories to start the season was a tremendous start. But this win over No. 11 Virginia was just that much more meaningful. This one got Pitt over the hump, and has national analysts and fans from all over the country talking about Pitt again.

Pitt Storms Back to Defeat No. 11 Virginia for Fifth-Straight Win, 68-65

Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde took notice, tweeting, “Pittsburgh is 4-0 in the ACC for the first time in nine seasons, rallying to beat North Carolina and Virginia back to back. Jeff Capel might finally have it turned around.”

“College basketball is better when Pitt is good,” said Rob Dauster of The Field of 68.

“Pittsburgh is going to be 4-0 in the ACC — with home wins over Virginia and North Carolina and road wins at Syracuse and NC State. Incredible turnaround since a 1-3 start for Jeff Capel and the Panthers,” said ESPN’s Jeff Borzello.

“Time to rank @Pitt_MBB Panthers are real deal,” March Madness analyst Andy Katz tweeted. “Follow up win over @UNC_Basketball by knocking off @UVAMensHoops Panthers are 4-0 in the ACC.”

NIKE SIBANDE EXPLODES FOR 16

Sibande’s 16-point performance was absolutely crucial for Pitt.

His eight first-half points seemed to all come at a time which Pitt really needed a bucket to stay in the game. While Virginia plays a slow game and is rarely going to blow out teams in league play, it felt as though the Cavaliers were on the edge of blowing this game open several times. But Sibande was right there, creating on his own, hitting threes, rising up for thunderous dunks, and igniting the Pitt crowd who was eager for a fifth-straight win.

“It felt amazing, man,” Sibande said about his dunk. “Been a long road, and it felt amazing to throw that down, for sure.”

CUMMINGS FINDING HIS TEAMMATES

Nelly Cummings was playing near flawless ball from the point guard position down the stretch of Pitt’s win.

Cummings dropped several dimes, setting up Federiko Federiko inside for numerous easy inside looks to keep Pitt in the lead with time winding down. He also threw perhaps the pass of the game on a drive,  slinging the ball with his left hand across the court to a wide-open Blake Hinson, who converted on the three ball and lit up the Pitt crowd.

In the win, Cummings finished with six points, eight assists, two steals, and zero turnovers. He led a Pitt team that took care of the ball as well as it could have, not turning the ball over once in the second half.

EMOTIONAL ATMOSPHERE AS PITT HONORS HAMLIN, UVA FOOTBALL PLAYERS

Tuesday night’s game was an emotional one, as the Panthers spent time honoring former Pitt football captain Damar Hamlin as well as the three Virginia football players who were killed in 2022.

The Panthers warmed up with “Pitt Stands with UVA” shirts, as well as “Chasing Millions” shirts to honor Hamlin. Pitt honored the three Virginia players — Lavel Davis, Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry — with a moment of silence to start the game. Then, midway through the first half, Pitt honored Hamlin with a tribute on the videoboard, which struck the emotions of all in attendance.

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel also shared his prayers and emotions towards his former player Willie Taylor (VCU), who was found dead on Jan. 1 at the age of 42.

PITT STAYING FOCUSED AS IT MOVES ON TO CLEMSON

Pitt’s next game comes on Saturday, Jan. 7 against Clemson, who is currently 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the ACC.

Along with Pitt and Miami, the Tigers are the only other undefeated team in conference play so far. Although Pitt has won 10 of 11 and each of its last five, the Panthers are staying focused ahead of Saturday’s battle.

“I stay in the moment. I’ve learned that over my career. Just to stay in the moment. We’ll enjoy this tonight, we’ll be off tomorrow, we’ll get back together on Thursday and we will start our preparation for the next game. I am grateful for where we are, mainly for how this team has come together. It’s been really cool to watch. To watch their belief in each other, to watch them be selfless with each other, and to watch them give to each other.”

That game will tip off at 4 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN2.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
1 month ago

Pittsburgh hasn’t noticed apparently, a game against a yearly ranked top team in the ACC, Pitt on a roll and the place was half empty. Rightly so, people don’t trust Capel, from this team blowing up at some point. The bench is extremely thin(no pun intended), especially along the front line.

Pittband
Pittband
1 month ago

I said it was going to take Capel 5-years to get past the stink of the previous administration. Didn’t factor in Covid. The chemistry is very good. My worry is the number of minutes Burton, Federico, and Hansen are logging. But Hail to Pitt.

Ed Rose
Ed Rose
1 month ago

It has been almost completely empty all year. I have been to many of the non conference games and there was probably 2-3 thousand fans there. This team is older, much more mature and more talented than the previous Capel teams. This team will still lose more games, but they will not blow up. The other thing in their favor is the ACC is not as good as has been in the past. They are worth watching and going to the games.

Eric payne
Eric payne
1 month ago

The place was half empty because they are on semester brake. Trust has nothing to do with winning. This team will determine its destiny. This team has three bigs, not counting John Hugley. Although they don’t have a lot of experience, when was the last time we had three bigs?

kmp30
kmp30
1 month ago

Listen, I’m all about Pitt being back. I was in school from 2004 to 2008. It was glorious. Being in the tourney was a given we took for granted. Now, this season certainly feels different than the last couple of years. But lets keep it in check.. remember when Champagnie declared Pitt was back… then we sucked the rest of the year? Remember when that first class Capel had beat a bunch of non con teams, then beat Florida state and was looking real competitive, then sucked the rest of the year? I am very high on this team right… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by kmp30
Eric payne
Eric payne
1 month ago
Reply to  kmp30

Thank you for your incitful comments. People are either too high or too low about this team. Its exciting to see this team playing so well, but let’s let this season play out. This team is on a mission. Let’s see where it takes us.

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