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Pitt Players United in Belief Panthers Belong in NCAA Tournament



Nelly Cummings as Pitt faces Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C. on March 9, 2023. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

The ACC Tournament has come to an end for the Pitt Panthers, and the ending results in significantly more questions than answers. 

No. 5 Pitt was dominated at the hands of No. 4 Duke, 96-69, in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals. The Panthers trailed 11-0 to begin the game and were once again handled by 7-footer Kyle Filipowski, who knocked down a few triples in the early going to throw a curveball into Pitt’s game plan. 

“The thing that they hadn’t done in the last four or five games is shoot the ball well from three, and so our game plan was to try to crowd it, crowd the lane,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “Because when we played them last time, they had 24 offensive rebounds, so we really wanted to do that, and they made us pay for it, especially early. Filipowski was 2 for 11 in the last four games, and he hit his first three, and that knocked us back right away.”

Pitt trailed 48-32 at halftime and was outscored by 11 in the second half as well. Duke shot 62% after checking in at 68% with six minutes left before emptying the bench in a blowout affair. 

The fate of the Panthers now falls into the hands of the NCAA selection committee tasked with fielding 68 teams for the 2023 March Madness brackets, set to be unveiled Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Jeff Capel emphatically answered “yes” when asked if Pitt has put together an NCAA Tournament resume and the sentiment stood the same for the players.

“Definitely,” Jamarius Burton said. “When you look at our resume, who we’ve beaten and who we’ve competed agaisnt there’s no doubt in my mind that we belong there and that we can do some things once we get into the dance.”

Multiple players mentioned the Panthers fight throughout the season and older core molding into a battle-tested program.

“We got more basketball to play,” Nelly Cummings said. “I think we’ve shown all year who we are. We have a lot of good wins, and some tough losses as well. We’ve shown all year who we can beat.” 

“Just an off night for us. We couldn’t catch our rhythm,” Nike Sibande said. “We do deserve a spot. We’ve been fighting all year. We wouldn’t have 22 wins if it weren’t for us fighting so I know we deserve a spot in there.”

Greg Elliott reflected on the Panthers’ talent and teamwork in becoming a close-knit core that can do damage in the tournament, including having veterans like Cummings and Burton who have been there before. 

“Hopefully we get to play,” Elliott said. “I think we deserve it. We played a great regular season. Just going to see what everybody else does… All the weapons we have. How together we are. Those two things go a long way in March.”

Jorge Diaz Graham also noted the Panthers’ fight and the ability to not point fingers but grow as a team.

“It’s really tough,” Jorge Diaz Graham said. “These past couple of weeks we haven’t played at our level. It’s very frustrating because I know we deserve more… I hope we have the chance to keep playing because I think we have more to show.” 

Burton called a team meeting after the two-point loss to Miami – where Pitt had the chance to tie for the regular-season ACC title – in an attempt to maintain focus and keep everyone on track. His message entering Selection Sunday remains similar. 

“Get rid of the past. Drop it,” Burton said. “Moving forward understanding that we’ve gotten to this point by being together and that shouldn’t waver.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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