Five Takeaways: Capel’s Prized Senior Class Delivers on Senior Night
PITTSBURGH — Ever since being picked to finish No. 14 in the ACC before the year began, this group of Pitt seniors — made up of four transfers and one former walk-on — was determined to prove everyone wrong. When they played their final home game of their collegiate careers on Saturday, they did just that.
Pitt took down Syracuse, 99-82, behind 19 points from Greg Elliott, 14 from Jamarius Burton, 14 from Nelly Cummings, 10 from Nike Sibande, and two from Aidan Fisch.
Every senior made a huge contribution to the dominant win. All five of them earned huge buckets, headlined by Fisch’s game-ending layup. The other four each scored in double figures. Cummings had 13 assists. Burton added nine rebounds and eight assists. Sibande had the Petersen Events Center going wild after he jumped sky high for an alley-oop slam. Elliott caught fire in the second half with five threes to bury the Orange.
That group’s performance — along with big games from Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko — led the Panthers to their 14th win in ACC play and sole possession of first place heading into the final week of the ACC regular season.
PANTHERS HAVE FIGURED OUT BOEHEIM’S ZONE
Pitt scored 99 points in Saturday’s win, picking apart the Syracuse 2-3 zone with deep threes and efficient ball movement.
The Panthers opened the game confidently on a 9-2 run, working the ball in and out of the zone to earn early points from Federiko, Burton, Sibande, and Cummings all over the court. As the game went on, Pitt went through periods of shooting very deep threes — mostly by Hinson — but continued to bury the big ones. Hinson’s ability to forget about his misses proved large once again, as he did bury six threes in the win. Elliott caught fire in the second, going 5 for 6 from three, and Cummings, Burton, and Sibande also hit threes.
In addition to the outside firepower, Pitt fed Federiko down low, as he cleaned up some dimes for 14 points, going 5 for 5 from the field. The Panthers often switched who was flashing to the middle of the Syracuse zone, but often had Burton live there. After starting out a bit uncomfortable with the space Syracuse gave him in the mid-range area, Burton settled in and found his shooters, his forwards, and cutters all around the basket.
#PittMBB has been killing the Syracuse zone for a few years now w a simple adjustment that shows why Boeheim's system is so dated. Most teams put their 4 or 5 at the middle of the zone to flash & make plays. Pitt puts players that typically make plays for others, i.e., guards >> pic.twitter.com/u70mWbHMbF
— Kostas Pelechrinis (@kpelechrinis) February 26, 2023
Pitt has now won five of its last six games over the Orange, including the last three. The Panthers have swept the Orange this season, winning one in upstate New York earlier this year and then Saturday’s game in the Steel City.
BOEHEIM APOLOGIZES FOR COMMENT AT PITT
In early February, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim made waves in the college basketball world with his comments publicized by ESPN’s Pete Thamel regarding the state of college basketball.
In the statement, which, on Saturday, Boeheim said was supposed to be off the record, the longtime Orange head coach called out Pitt for buying its new players.
“This is an awful place we’re in in college basketball,” he told ESPN. “Pittsburgh bought a team. OK, fine. My [big donor] talks about it, but he doesn’t give anyone any money. Nothing. Not one guy. Our guys make like $20,000. Wake Forest bought a team. Miami bought a team. … It’s like, ‘Really, this is where we are?’ That’s really where we are, and it’s only going to get worse.”
“Somebody wrote from Pittsburgh that I’m old, I don’t believe in players getting money,” Boeheim said. “All of our players get NIL money. Everyone on our team is getting NIL money. Guys that don’t play are getting NIL money. I believe in it 100%. The transfer portal is here, I believe in that 100%. It’s just going to be different in college basketball. Maybe it will be better. It takes a team that would have had no chance, have a chance to be really good.”
“It was a bad statement, and I apologize for that,” Boeheim said after the game on Saturday. “A lot of schools who got transfers in the portal used NIL money to do it. I was really talking about schools and it got overlapped [with] Pitt.”
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim Reflects on Pitt “Bought a Team” Comments, Discusses Transfer Portal and NIL Money
Boeheim continued on about the state of college hoops, speaking about the ability to quickly build a roster through the transfer portal and the overlapping effects that NIL has on that. To hear his full remarks after the game, click the link below.
GUILLERMO PLAYS “UNBELIEVABLE” GAME
Pitt freshman Guillermo Diaz-Graham was one of the only players to play extended minutes off the bench on Saturday, coming in to relieve Federiko Federiko, who was caught up in some second-half foul trouble.
Diaz-Graham scored four points in the game, but his impact was felt all over the court when he was out there. The Spaniard threw down an alley-oop, dished out one spectacular assist, blocked a dunk from behind, and grabbed three big rebounds down low when the Panthers blew the game wide open.
Diaz-Graham’s highlight passing, dunking, and blocking ignited the Petersen Events Center crowd, and earned him a standing ovation when he checked out for Federiko.
“When Guillermo is in there, he gives us a little bit of a different look because he can pop and do some things on the perimeter,” Capel said. “I thought Guillermo was unbelievable in the second half, man. Some of the passes he made, rolling to the middle of the zone, getting off of it quick, some of the decisions he made, he blocked a shot, I mean, I thought he was unbelievable in this game and I am really really happy for him because he works his butt off all the time.”
NIKE EARNS THE START
For just the second time this year, Sibande was in the starting lineup for Pitt.
On his senior night, after spending three years with the Panthers’ program and battling adversity during each season, he was honored with the starting spot on Saturday.
“What Nike does and has been doing for this program is one of the most unselfish things I have ever experienced first hand,” said Hinson, who began the game on the bench so Sibande could start. “Truth of the matter is, he would start on most teams in the country in my opinion. He’s willing to accept the role of not doing that for our team for the betterment of this team, and that just embodies what this team is about and what he’s about. He totally deserves it man, that’s just what it is. He would starty everywhere else. Coach just did a good job of assembling talent, and that’s what his role is for us, so that’s what he deserves, that’s what he gets.”
Sibande is a leading candidate for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 7.7 points and four rebounds per game for the Panthers throughout the year off the bench. He also added perhaps the play of the game, slamming home a Cummings-thrown inbounds pass out of a timeout.
OH MY @sibande_nike 🤯🤯🤯
📺 @accnetwork pic.twitter.com/x5YCW6cYmt
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) February 25, 2023
Still not in the top 25! Hopefully the selection committee is smarter than Net and KenPom. One more win and co-champions of the ACC. On to Notre Dame and take care of business.