Lair – Xavier stops Pitt’s NCAA tournament with a score of 84-73

GREENSBORO, NC – Pitt’s attempt to make the Sweet 16 fell short in an 84-73 loss to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Panthers finished the season with a 24-12 record after making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.

Pitt trailed by double digits for most of the second half, but the Panthers put in a final vigorous push in the final game of the season. The Panthers came within 8 points with a three-pointer from Greg Elliott to make it 76-68 1:45 into the game. The Musketeers had some problems on the free-throw line that kept the Panthers within striking distance.

Xavier shot 16 of 26 from the line for the game, boosting Pitt’s hopes.

Blake Hinson’s three-pointers left with 34.4 to make it 82-73, but Xavier buckled down the line at the end and Pitt missed his last two shots and the comeback bid ultimately came late in the game.

Pitt held a 15-14 lead on a Nike Sibande layup at the 13:15 mark of the first half, but from there until Pitt’s late rally, it was pretty much all Xavier. The Big East side used a 7-0 run to extend a 30-24 lead to 37-24 and the momentum clearly turned in their favor.

The Musketeers set the Panthers on fire at 52% from the ground in the first half. Xavier guard Adam Kunkel lit up the Panthers with 15 points, all over three points. Kunkel remained goalless in the second half but was also one of five Xavier players in double figures as the balanced attack caused some problems for Pitt.

The Musketeers were led by Jack Nunge, the 7’0-inch senior, who finished with 18 points, 14 of which came in the first half. Xavier’s big man was 8 from 12 off the ground and the Panthers never really had an answer for him inside. Nunge eventually fouled at 3:19 into the game and only scored four points after halftime

Xavier star player Souley Boum remained goalless in the first half, finishing the field just 3:13. His 14 second-half points certainly took the pressure off the Musketeers and kept Pitt on the ropes.

Xavier’s initial outburst in the first half was fueled by his great movement. Sean Miller’s team finished the tournament with 22 assists from 30 field goals scored, including 17 assists in the first half. The Musketeers shot 47% from the ground for the game.

Because just as Xavier played offensively on Sunday, the Panthers simply struggled to fire shots. Pitt’s senior guards Jamarius Burton and Nelly Cummings were 10 of 32 combined in this instance.

Burton finished the race with 16 points, but had to work extremely hard to do so. Cummings finished 3-of-14 shooting with 9 points. The Panthers were led by Blake Hinson, who finished with 18 points. Hinson was 3-of-8 from three-point range, including a moonshot in the second half to ignite the Pitt crowd with 4:33 left to make it 74-60.

Aside from Hinson, Pitt didn’t take outside shots against Xavier and sometimes struggled to even find open looks. The Panthers were 6-of-20 for the game from three-point range. Xavier effectively stopped Pitt from making a run in the second half by limiting their outside views.

Pitt tried to go with a smaller lineup at times in the second half. Jeff Capel opted to use Hinson as a center with a four-guard lineup, but the Panthers didn’t fire any shots from deep. Despite being a double-digit deficit to open the second half, Pitt attempted just four three-pointers in the first ten minutes after halftime.

Pitts starting center Federiko Federiko returned against Iowa State on Friday after missing Tuesday’s game of the First Four, but for the most part wasn’t a factor. He was even less effective against Xavier as he only played a minute and spent most of the game off the bench on a stationary bike. Capel said there was a noticeable limp and didn’t want to hurt him further.

Guillermo Diaz Graham started in Federiko’s place for the third time in a row. The freshman center finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to mark a strong finish to his season.

Despite being restricted on the inside, Pitt struggled on the glass. Xavier narrowly won the rebounding division 44-41. The Panthers shot exceptionally well from the free-throw line (25 of 29) on Friday but only finished 13 of 20 against Xavier as perhaps some fatigue played a part after playing a third tournament game in six days.

Pitt won two NCAA tournament games this year for the first time since 2009. The Panthers were picked to finish 14th in the ACC. Jeff Capel was likely coach for his job after four straight losing seasons to open his tenure at Pitt. He brought Pitt back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016, while also winning ACC Coach of the Year.

The Panthers lose four seniors: Jamarius Burton, Nelly Cummings, Greg Elliott and Nike Sibande. Pitt will bring back two starters, top scorer Blake Hinson, along with Federiko Federiko inside. The Diaz Graham twins will return after making serious progress at the track and the Panthers have already signed three recruits in the Class of 2023, highlighted by a pair of four-star recruits.


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