Pitt came into Tuesday night’s game against Georgia Tech looking to get back on track after losing at Virginia Tech over the weekend.
The Panthers did that, beating the Yellow Jackets 76-68, but not without some drama – and some clear causes for concern.
Pitt’s loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday was a product of the Panthers’ defense struggling in the face of the Hokies’ sharp execution.
On Tuesday night, the situation was reversed in the first half. Pitt’s offense was the issue in the first 20 minutes, with virtually nothing going in its half-court sets and complicating the problem by committing five turnovers. Georgia Tech capitalized on those five with 11 points off turnovers, pushing the Yellow Jackets’ first-half shooting to an impressive 42.4% from the floor.
The result was a one-point halftime lead for the home team that felt like an advantage for the visitors.
In the second half, whatever Pitt might have doing passably well in the first half seemed to go out the window. Georgia Tech made seven of its first 10 shots from the field and three of its first six attempts from outside the arc, building a four-point lead with less than 12 minutes to play and putting the Panthers’ hopes for a strong finish to the regular season in jeopardy.
But over the next five minutes, Pitt bounced back. Federiko Federiko was good on four consecutive attempts from the free throw line, Jamarius Burton hit one of his patented pull-up jumpers, Federiko finished a possession with a dunk and Nike Sibande went coast-to-coast for a fast-break layup to cap a 10-3 run that gave the home team a 55-52 lead.
Georgia Tech didn’t go away, though. The Yellow Jackets came into Tuesday night’s game with just three wins in ACC play, but they were every bit the equal of the Panthers, who had won 12 of their first 16 conference games. Pitt pushed its lead to six at 60-56, but Georgia Tech answered with a Miles Kelly three to cut it to three.
The Panthers got their own answer at the other end of the court when Burton found Nelly Cummings for his third three of the game.
After another Georgia Tech three, Cummings hit two free throws and then turned a missed three from the Yellow Jackets into three points for Pitt when he set up Blake Hinson for a triple that gave the Panthers an eight-point lead with 86 seconds left – their biggest advantage since leading by the same amount six minutes into the game.
Georgia Tech cut the lead to five over the next 36 seconds, but Cummings converted a series of free throws to secure the win.
Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly led all scorers with 24 points, hitting 8-of-17 from the floor and 6-of-13 from three. Cummings paced Pitt with 22 points and recorded seven assists, his best performance since he scored 21 in Pitt’s win at North Carolina on Feb. 1. Hinson added 19 points, most of which came from his 5-of-9 shooting outside the arc. Federiko also hit double figures with 14 points and seven rebounds – an especially impressive scoring total considering eight of his points came on perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line.
The win improved Pitt’s record to 20-8, securing the Panthers’ first 20-win season in seven years, a streak that dates back to the final year of the Jamie Dixon era in Oakland. The team will close the 2022-23 home schedule on Saturday against Syracuse.