Panther-lair – Pitt knocks off No. 11 Virginia
There was never any doubt that Virginia would present Pitt’s toughest challenge of the season when the No. 11 Cavaliers came to the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday night.
With the No. 1 defense in the ACC that has come by its reputation honestly under Tony Bennett, Virginia figured to make things difficult for a Pitt team that has lived and died – and won – this season with its shooting.
So in the matchup of Virginia’s defense and Pitt’s offense, the Cavaliers had the edge.
Until they didn’t.
The Panthers battled back from a 12-point second-half deficit with tough offense and some strong defense of its own to knock off the Cavaliers 68-65 in front of a late-night crowd of 6,464 at the Petersen Events Center.
In the first half, Pitt struggled. The Panthers made just eight field goals, the second-fewest in any half this season, trailing only the seven baskets they made in the second half of the loss to West Virginia.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers had no such offensive issues in the first 20 minutes, shooting 48.1% from the field, and the combination of Virginia’s stifling defense and efficient offense left the Panthers trailing by 10 at halftime.
Virginia’s lead only grew from there, extending it to a 44-32 advantage with just under 16 minutes to play.
Pitt’s experienced guards didn’t let the game slide away, though, leading the charge on a 14-0 run that gave them their first lead of the game at 46-44. From there, it was a matter of simply staying ahead, and while Virginia did make eight baskets in the final 10 minutes of the game, the Panthers held serve, answering nearly every Cavalier bucket with at least one score of their own.
The comeback was a total-team effort. Blake Hinson grabbed several key defensive rebounds and drained a three off an inbound pass in addition to drawing multiple fouls. Nelly Cummings and Jamarius Burton fought their way to the basket through Virginia’s built-to-stop-penetration defense. Federiko Federiko continued on his path of steady improvement. And Nike Sibande provided the spark – never more pronounced than on his thundering dunk that turned a 47-46 Virginia lead back into a Pitt advantage.
The Cavaliers didn’t go away down the stretch, taking a lead at 55-53 with 6:30 to play and tying the game at 60-60 with 1:45 on the clock. But in both cases, Pitt answered by working the ball inside to Federiko, who converted both opportunities to keep the Panthers ahead.
Pitt capped the win in the final 30 seconds with a perfect 6-of-6 performance at the free throw line as Cummings, Burton and Sibande made two each to ice the game.
Sibande and Hinson tied for the team high with 16 points each, including a sharp 3-for-4 mark from outside by Sibande. Burton added 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting, and he and Hinson drew five fouls each.
Cummings scored six in the win, but also handed out eight assists and didn’t commit a single turnover. Federiko chipped in eight points – all in the final 14 minutes – and grabbed 11 rebounds.
The win improved Pitt’s record to 11-4 overall and 4-0 in the ACC. This is the Panthers’ best start to the conference scheduled since they went 4-0 to open their inaugural year in the ACC. This is also just the second time Pitt has defeated Virginia since joining the conference and the first time the Panthers have beaten the Cavaliers in regulation since 1974.
Pitt will be at home again on Saturday afternoon to host Clemson for a 4 pm game.