Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Behind 31 points from freshman Justin Champagnie, Pitt knocked off Wake Forest in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday, 81-72.
Champagnie was incredible for Pitt (16-16), obviously. We’d seen him have some excellent games this season, of course, but to do it with the Panthers’ season on the line was quite another thing.
His 31 points came on 13-19 shooting, and that included making 3-7 from three-point range. He added six rebounds and was also a force defensively, with a steal and a couple of blocks. One of the announcers said it best in declaring him as Pitt’s Swiss Army knife today. Champagnie was basically a one-man wrecking crew for Pitt and while he didn’t technically do it all today, there’s no chance the team advances without him.
Interestingly enough, Champagnie was left off of the ACC’s All Freshman team earlier this week. When asked about it afterwards on the court in a brief postgame interview, he really didn’t hesitate saying he felt disrespected by the decision. If that was needed for motivation today, who am I to argue?
The game itself was a back and forth one. Pitt took an early lead before Wake would lead by a narrow margin for much of the first half. But the two teams traded leads in the second half and after the Panthers took a 68-66 lead, they would keep that the rest of the game. We’ve been used to seeing Pitt suffer some late-game scoring droughts but today it was Wake that had trouble scoring at the end. The Demon Deacons scored only four points in the game’s final four minutes as Pitt went on an 11-4 run to close things out.
Champagnie got some help from Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, Au’Diese Toney, and Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, who combined for 44 points. Each was in double figures and, most importantly, shot the ball efficiently, going a combined 18-37 from the field. It was a great day of shooting for Pitt as they made 52.3% of their field goal attempts.
Wake also shot the ball well (46%) but cooled off as the game went on. More importantly, they turned the ball over 18 times and many of them, frankly, were just pretty sloppy. Wake shot the ball well and had a ten-rebound advantage on the glass but it’ll be the turnovers they remember from this one, no doubt.
It was great to see Pitt end a seven-game losing streak and live to play another day in the tournament. The losing streak really put a damper on what had been a good season up to that point and these guys winning at least one game in the tournament was encouraging. Next up, the Panthers will face NC State tomorrow. That, unfortunately, is another daytime game on a work day with a 2:00 p.m. start on ESPN.