Cohesive Panthers Keep Focus As Success Continues to Build
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One could have easily forgiven Pitt coach Jeff Capel if he’d allowed himself a few moments to celebrate what his team had accomplished in besting Florida State. After all, it hasn’t been that long since the Panthers trying to get to 11 in the ACC meant their seed in the ACC tournament, not their win total in conference play.
Capel wasn’t having it. Even as the Panthers did something only one other Pitt team has done as an ACC member, his thoughts already turned to Boston College.
“We’re in the moment,” Capel said. “We’re just concentrating on right now; we’ll enjoy this for the rest of the day and then we’ll start getting ready for BC tomorrow.”
The rest of the Panthers felt the same way. Pitt’s 11 wins is one short of its 2021 and 2022 totals combined, but nobody in the Panther locker room wanted to touch that discussion. The closest that anyone got to acknowledging Pitt’s accomplishment was Nike Sibande, but even he put it in context of getting an ACC road win.
“In the ACC, every win is a tough win,” Sibande said. “It is exciting that we tied the most (ACC wins) in program history, but we have bigger goals. We want to maximize our goals and take the next step.”
The Panthers might not want to dwell on success, but it’s clear around the ACC that Pitt has changed in a big way. That proved evident again on Saturday, as the Panthers brushed aside another fired-up host for their fourth straight road win to remain in first place. At 6-1 in the ACC, Pitt owns the league’s best road record. Only Duke, which hasn’t lost on its home floor all year, has bested Pitt at home this season in ACC play.
To get this one, the Panthers had to fight through adversity both early and late. In the first half, Nelly Cummings aggravated an injury he picked up against Louisville, limiting his ability in the second 20 minutes. In the second, Federiko Federiko came out with foul trouble, meaning extra minutes for Guillermo Graham-Diaz.
None of it rattled the Panthers. When someone needed to step up to keep the Seminoles at bay, there was always someone in a black and gold jersey to do the job.
“These guys are very confident,” Capel said. “They believe in themselves; they believe in each other, and we believe in them. Sometimes, you’ve got to have guys step up and make plays, and that’s what we did. Whether it was Nike coming in to make those shots he made, making passes for Jamarius (Burton), making passes to find Greg (Elliott) to step up and make a three, it’s just a testament to our team.”
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was among those convinced. The Seminoles coach wasn’t happy with his team’s showing, but he showed only admiration for Pitt’s performance, both Saturday and over the course of the season.
“To lose as many transfers as they did last year shows how creative they are and what a good job they did evaluating. Not only bringing in talented guys, but the guys who fit their system and style,” Hamilton said. “That was an ingenious job that (Capel) has done. Sometimes you can bring in talent, but if you look around the country, there’s a lot of issues going on with chemistry in our sport. But they seem to like each other and play to each other.
“They play extremely unselfish, and that’s the mark of a coach being able to communicate and players being able to accept their style. They’re a mature team that’s got something to prove, and they did today.”
In doing so, the Panthers continued to defy expectations and set themselves up for a possible return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Jamie Dixon’s final season at Pitt. With six games plus the ACC tournament left on the schedule, Pitt likely needs to only hold serve at home and avoid a Quad 3 defeat at Notre Dame to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
The Panthers might not be thinking about that possibility yet, but if it happens, it’s clear how it will occur.
“We all have confidence in each other,” Burton said. “That’s what you’re seeing out there. It’s a beautiful thing to have multiple weapons, because it’s a hard thing to scout and it’s a hard thing to guard. It’s just about putting each player in a position where they can be effective and (Capel) continues to do that.”
The ACC came out last night and said that the referees didn’t know the rule at the end of the duke/Virginia and duke should have been awarded 2 free throws to win the game. If duke wins that game, Pitt is a game ahead of the rest and a clear favorite to win the ACC. As it stands, Pitt will probably need to go 5-1 to win the conference:
Yeah, the refs screw w a lot a games. I’m sorry but I don’t agree w ya here on your point about Duke winning last night is better. A win last night for Duke puts them at a 9-5 record. Duke has a few home games left where they are very, very hard to beat. They also own the tiebreaker w Pitt. Pitt owns the tiebreaker w Virginia. I’m glad UVA beat Duke. We don’t need Duke hanging around near the top. Bottom line here….One game at a time and think like Al Davis….just win baby… I’m dating myself here… Read more »
I’d normally be worried about 5-1 but this team continues to impress me. I like our odds! I am worried about VT and Syracuse. And obviously Miami.
I’m worried about Boston College.
This team plays like a unified squad, which is very unlike what we have seen the last several seasons. It appears that these players are not selfish and have a common goal of winning.
Have to send a thank you Northwestern for Beating Purdue. Makes our win better.