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Senior Night will be Emotional for Capel as Program’s Leaders Play Last Game at the Pete

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Not many people knew what to expect out of this year’s Pitt basketball team heading into the season.

However, just weeks away from Selection Sunday, fans of the program believe that this team deserves a March Madness bid and will eventually be selected to the 68-team field.

Two of the expected stars for this year’s team did not end up playing big roles on the court this year, as Dior Johnson was suspended and later red-shirted, and John Hugley is now sitting out after an early-season injury derailed his year. Hugley then decided to sit the rest of the year out, focus on himself, and seek a redshirt. In the absence of those two, Pitt’s veteran leadership stepped up to the plate and has delivered the best season since 2015-16 in Pittsburgh.

Nelly Cummings, a graduate transfer from Colgate, hails from Midland, Pennsylvania. Nike Sibande, who is in his third season with the program, hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. Jamarius Burton, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Greg Elliott, from Detroit. Lastly, Aidan Fisch, a former walk-on turned scholarship player this season, from Pittsburgh.

The first four on that list have combined to average more than 45 points per game and have led Pitt to a tremendous 20-8 start to the season. Burton is tied for first on the team in scoring, with an average of 15.6 points per game. Cummings leads the team in assists, with 132 on the year. Elliott leads the team in three-point percentage at 42%, and Sibande has been one of the most effective sixth man in the conference all season long, averaging 7.6 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench.

For Cummings, who has already had one senior night at Colgate — the school from which he graduated — Saturday night will be a completely new experience.

“The biggest difference I think for me, is, I had six people at my last senior night,” Cummings said on Thursday. “This time, it’ll feel like, thousands. “Obviously, my family will be there, but I think thousands of people that I really know, genuinely, I’ve known for a long time here.”

Saturday night’s contest against Syracuse will tip off at 5 p.m. in front of the sold-out Petersen Events Center, filled with Cummings’ family and friends, as well as the close ones around Burton, Sibande, and Elliott.

“We’ve been so locked in and so focused on our opportunities we have in front of us that I haven’t thought of it like that yet, but now that it’s really here, it is my last game at the Pete,” Cummings added.

“It’s huge,” head coach Jeff Capel said about the senior class’s impact. “These guys have been unbelievable. You take Fisch and Nike, who have been here the longest. What those guys have endured and been through. Fisch being a manager and then earning a spot as a walk-on. His voice is really important for us, and he’s earned that. Everyone knows what an unbelievable teammate he is. Nike, what he went through his first year here, having to sit the first however many games it was, becoming eligible before we played at Miami. And then during that year, the next year, tearing his ACL and sitting out and what he’s meant to us and done this year. For Jamarius, it being his second year, and what he’s endured, what he’s gone through, how he’s fought and persevered. And then you’ve got the new seniors, the graduates with Nelly and with Greg. Just the things that they’ve brought to this program. Great teammates, winning, positivity, experience, leadership, all of those things. All five of those guys, to me, embody all of that, and they’ve meant a lot to our program. It probably will be a very emotional day for me.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Don
Don
1 year ago

Looks like we got our starting lineup for tomorrow!! Way to bring Pitt basketball back!! H2P!!

Bob
Bob
1 year ago

I know this article is not about them, but I see Will Jeffress on the bench every game. Does anyone know if Johnson and Hugley are with the team at games as well? I will feel better about them playing next year if they are involved this year. With the transfer portal, you just never know now a days. We can keep this momentum going with the return of those 3 young men and the incoming freshmen. Without Johnson or Hugley, I see a step backwards happening. Thank you to the seniors for making Pitt men’s basketball relevant again!

kmp30
kmp30
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob

I’ve seen Hugley on the bench for sure, celebrating shots and stuff. Not sure I’ve noticed Johnson since he was reinstated, but I haven’t payed attention. Maybe they don’t travel to away games? Not sure on that.

Pitt guy
Pitt guy
1 year ago

Hail to these seniors they put Pitt basketball back on the map ! Congratulations to the coach of the year on a great season , Capel has turned this program around . Hai to Pitt !

Pittband
Pittband
1 year ago
Reply to  Pitt guy

Capel focuses the praise on the players as is right BUT. Without his perseverance, we would be lamenting another lost season. First the Barnes/Stalling debacle, then the coach’s search finally Covid , he’s been a godsend. Thank you.

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