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‘Next time we’ll see You in Charlotte because we’re going.’ is what Pitt Panthers Head Coach Pat Narduzzi said at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Football Media Day August 29th and although many folks didn’t take him seriously, he stood his ground. Now 3 months later, his football team made his prediction come true as the Panthers are indeed going to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, North Carolina.
”We’re one step closer to where we want to go,” Said Narduzzi.
The Panthers needed to beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and they did so in a 34-13 defeat at BB &T Field in Winston-Salem. It was the first time the Panthers ever faced the Atlantic Coastal Division Demon Deacons, and now they played a part in Pitt’s historic moment. With the win, the Panthers clinched the ACC Coastal Division for the very first time and will face the Clemson Tigers for the ACC Championship Dec 1st.
But like the season, it wasn’t going to come easy for the Panthers as (like their basketball counterparts) they had to overcome a slow start and a tough Wake Forest team that wasn’t just going to roll over for them as they were hungry for a bowl bid. Unlike the last 3 games in which Pitt’s running game destroyed their opponents (154 total yards), the Panthers relied on their overall team effort to win.
QB Kenny Pickett had the best game of his young collegiate career as he passed for 316 yards and 3 TDs. Grad-Transfer Taysir Mack caught one of Pickett’s passes for a 63-yard TD for a 105-yard day as did WR Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Arajuo-Lopes. But the running game wasn’t that non-existent as Senior Darrin Hall both scored a TD. Even offensive lineman Stefano Millin got in on the action as the scored on a 6-yard run.
The defense also did their part as they intercepted Wake Forest twice (Jason Pinnock and Damar Hamelin) after giving up a first-half TD and the lead. It turned out to be Wake Forest’s only TD of the game.
The Panthers overcame tremendous odds this season as they were blown out by Penn State, Central Florida and lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame. Their most disappointing loss as to North Carolina, who’s win against Pitt is their only one of the season. But after dramatic wins vs. ACC foes Syracuse and Duke, there was no stopping the Panthers as they haven’t lost a game since playing the Fighting Irish.
Overall, The Panthers climbed the Coastal Division standings with their running game, which ranks second only to Georgia Tech in the ACC with an average of nearly 257 yards. This was only the fourth time this season they were held to fewer than 200 yards rushing, but Pickett proved Pitt can move it through the air, too.
The Panthers must now finish the season in Miami vs. the Hurricanes November 24th before facing the Tigers in Charlotte, as Narduzzi predicted.
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Pitt holds off North Alabama 71-66
The Pitt Panthers basketball team received perhaps their biggest test of this young season. The question is, was it against North Alabama, or themselves. The Lions proved that they weren’t a pushover as they made key baskets and the Panthers weren’t consistent with theirs. Nevertheless, Pitt shook off the struggles and passed their test to beat North Alabama 71-66 at the Petersen Events Center.
“I’m really proud of our team for finding a way to win when we weren’t at our best.” Said Head Coach Jeff Capel, who has his Panthers at 5-0 in his first season. “And we weren’t at our best because of North Alabama. I thought that they played really hard and they pressured us. We had to work harder offensively to get into stuff and that’s the first time that we faced pressure like that and I thought that it threw us off. We weren’t as connected, and I thought it threw us off with finishing even though we were able to get to the basket, I thought that we left a lot of points on the board, especially in the first half. But I am proud of our guys finding a way to win.
This time, it was freshman guard Xavier Johnson to lead the way as he had a game-high 23 points. 2 other Panthers also scored in double-figures: Grad-Transfer Malik Ellison (15) and freshman Tony Au’Diese (12) as they fought back from a halftime deficit of 33-29 to find a way to win.
“I felt like he responded very well, especially on the offensive end.” Capel said regarding Johnson “He made the right leads in ball screens, he was able to get fouled, he was able to step up and make plays.” But Capel also said “Defensively, he’s got to do a better job. That kid hit 4 threes. We can’t leave him right there.”
Capel was referring to North Alabama G Jamari Blackmon, who was 5-9 from 3-point range. “That was a big-time shot by #11 by them.” Said Capel “He played very well throughout the game. But again, Xavier was really good for us.”
It appeared that the Panthers were either tired (4 games in 5 days) or a little complacent vs. their opponent as they had struggles executing in the first half by missing easy layups (14) and not getting back on defense as the Lions capitalized on their mistakes. It probably led to a very motivated halftime speech by Capel.
“I just think that today we came out a little slow.” Said Capel. “It might have been the early start. We have a lot of new guys playing this year, so they’re not really used to the 12 pm games. It was good for us to come out her, get the win, and get used to the noon game since we have another one next week against Saint Louis.”
The Panthers will wrap up Barclay’s Classic when they travel to Brooklyn NY to play Saint Louis at the Barclays Center for their first road game of the season Wednesday, November 21st. Their next home game is Dec 3rd against Niagara.
“Again, I am really proud of our guys to be able to fight through adversity and to win.”-Said Capel.
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