Five Takeaways: Nelly Cummings Playing Lights Out Heading into ‘The Grind’
PITTSBURGH — “I want to put Pitt basketball back on the map,” Nelly Cummings said, back on April 11 — minutes after making his commitment to Pitt public.
Fast forward 316 days, and Cummings and Co. have put Pitt basketball back on the map.
On Tuesday night, the 6-foot point guard led the Panthers to their 20th victory of the season, reaching the 20-win mark for the first time since 2015-16.
Cummings played a complete game from the point guard spot. Early on, the Midland, PA native dished out a sharp behind-the-back dish to Blake Hinson for a corner three to ignite the Petersen Events Center crowd. Shortly after the dime, Cummings coasted through the lane for a lay-up, followed by a three pointer of his own.
“They hit big shots,” Georgia Tech HC Josh Pastner said. “It’s a make and miss game. I thought Nelly Cummings, he played like a grizzly veteran, and so did Blake Hinson.”
Cummings finished with a team-high 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go along with a game-high seven assists. Perhaps most importantly, he hit all six of his free-throws attempts in the final two-and-a-half minutes to close out the victory.
“I just played free,” Cummings said. “Just wanted to have fun on the court. Coach stressed having some fun. We looked like we were a little bit down early, not a lot of energy. So, I just was having fun playing the game.”
FEDERIKO CONTINUES TO SHINE
Federiko Federiko has arguably been the biggest surprise of the Pitt basketball season.
The Finnish big man — who is just a sophomore — has come into his own throughout this year, evolving from a hopeful junior college prospect to one of the most effective bigs in the ACC.
Federiko, like Cummings, stepped up big from the free-throw line on Tuesday night in the Panthers’ 76-68 win over Georgia Tech. He hit all eight of his free throws in the win, and along with his three field goals, he was the team’s third-leading scorer with 14 total points. Federiko blocked two shots and also grabbed a team-best seven rebounds in the winning effort.
“We shot free throws in practice, and I shot free throws before the game,” Federiko said. “I was prepared.”
The forward, who has stepped in in the absence of John Hugley, has cemented himself as a respected big man in the ACC just one season after competing last year for Northern Oklahoma College. Following Tuesday night’s game, Federiko has now scored in double figures six times this season and has grabbed at least seven rebounds in 13 matchups. In ACC play, he is averaging 6.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, along with two blocks per game.
“Federiko, I think he’s the second-leading shot blocker in the ACC,” said Pastner. “He just makes a big difference.”
CAPEL PROUD OF TEAM’S GRIT
Pitt’s win over Georgia Tech — the ACC’s 12th-best team — was not pretty for most of the game.
The Panthers struggled to defend the short-handed Yellow Jackets at times, only causing four turnovers all game. Pitt also had its fair share of silly turnovers, most of which led to buckets by Georgia Tech on the other end of the floor. Those who came off of Pitt’s bench did not contribute much offensively — combining for two points.
“I thought we showed a toughness, a grit, and I am really, really proud of that. We were down four with 12 minutes left, and we were able to rally. We were able to get some things done offensively, but most importantly, during that stretch, we were able to finally get some stops.”
However, the Panthers prevailed, and after the game, were proud of the way in which they did.
“Like coach said, it was a gritty win,” Cummings added. “I think we all, we were tested. That’s what we needed today. We didn’t need it to be a blowout win or anything like that, we had to dig deep and get the win.”
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENT SPARKS RUN
Georgia Tech did not turn the ball over one time in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets — who came into the game with the fourth-worst turnover margin in the ACC — were taking care of the ball at an elite rate, and making Pitt pay when the Panthers turned it over.
Up until the final 12 minutes of the second half, Pitt could not take possessions away from the Yellow Jackets, and Georgia Tech was in control because of it. The Yellow Jackets even held a four-point lead, their largest of the game, with 12:18 remaining.
Then, Pitt, led by Nike Sibande on the front lines, picked up the Yellow Jackets in a full-court press, causing a bit more pressure on the ball. Sibande’s athleticism and quickness allowed him to slide with the on-ball guard all the way down the court, which led to havoc on Georgia Tech’s end offensively. For a team that began the game taking care of the ball so well, things began to unravel. Shot clock violations, turnovers, missed shots all came along for Georgia Tech, and Pitt had its chance to close out a win.
“I thought picking up full court a little bit, I thought that helped us,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “Just to get some energy. We have to get back to defending. I don’t think we defended well today. That’s two games in a row. That’s out of character for who we have been. We have to get back to it in practice. That’s something that we will address on Thursday. But in that moment, from the 12-minute mark, I thought we did some things. We fought over some screens, we communicated better, we contested shots, we rotated, and we made some plays during that stretch. But we have to do it more consistently like we were before these last two games.”
20 WINS IS BIG, BUT PITT IS ‘NOT DONE’
With the win over Georgia Tech, Pitt earned its 20th “W” of the season, and its 13th win in ACC play.
The Panthers haven’t reached 20 wins since 2015-16. Their 13 conference wins rank seventh in program history for a single season.
“I think it definitely means something, but we’re in the grind right now, so we’re focused on the next opportunity that we’re going to have,” Cummings said. “Yeah, 20 wins is special, but we’re not done.”
Pitt will play its last home game of the season on Saturday, Feb. 25 against Syracuse at 5 p.m.
When you made that statement, during your recruitment, I know that you cared about Pitt Basketball and that you would do everything you could to make that happen. Thank you for caring and thanks to you and your teammates v for making it happen. It is a pleasure to watch you play and I am very happy that you got the chance to Finish your career at home. I do not believe that your journey is over, but I surely wish that you could have been here longer. H2P.
Capel used only 6 players last night that played more than 3 minutes. The other player off the bench, Santos only played 2 minutes. Total Pitt bench scoring was a mere 2 points. Hopefully all these minutes the 6 played won’t hurt against Syracuse, who is playing tonight. So Pitt gets an extra days rest, which is needed. Defense allowed GT to shoot almost 50% fg (47.3%), so that needs fixed.
“One of the most effective bigs in the ACC” is quite a stretch. Most improved for sure, but not most effective. Federiko has been a difference-maker in a lot of ways, but he does not bring much of an inside presence offensively. Hell, they don’t even pass it to him when he’s in the post. I think that actually hinders how much our offense can do. He’ll get better (as he has shown over a short period of time), but he needs to be an offensive presence in the future to get this team to the next level. Got to… Read more »
Top 4 should be a lock if we beat ‘Cuse. Clemson probably will lose at least one (Cuse, NCSt, UVA, ND) and NC State probably will lose at least one (Wake, Clemson, Duke).
helped out by UVa’s loss last night …
Win out and get crowned regular season champion. Let’s start with ‘Cuse Saturday.
With Hughley, Pitt could play one offense. With Hinson and Federico they can play a motion offense. Fedy is mobile and willing to put in the effort to play both ends of the court. Fedy isn’t Edy but Edy can’t play 30-minutes game after game. And Fedy is never the last man back on defense so yeah he is one of the best bigs in the conference.