Weekend Sports: Basketball and wrestling shine amid football and volleyball losses

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Weekend Sports: Basketball and wrestling shine amid football and volleyball losses

First-year guard Trey McGowens attempts to dunk during Pitt’s 74-53 victory against Duquesne in the City Game Friday evening.

First-year guard Trey McGowens attempts to dunk during Pitt’s 74-53 victory against Duquesne in the City Game Friday evening.

Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

First-year guard Trey McGowens attempts to dunk during Pitt’s 74-53 victory against Duquesne in the City Game Friday evening.

Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

First-year guard Trey McGowens attempts to dunk during Pitt’s 74-53 victory against Duquesne in the City Game Friday evening.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

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Pitt football and volleyball headlined the University’s athletics entering the weekend with high-stakes opportunities. Unfortunately, both teams returned disappointing results, with volleyball failing to get past the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year while football suffered a blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship.

But Pitt’s other sports teams made up for this heartbreak by recording victories elsewhere. Men’s basketball beat Duquesne in the annual City Game and the wrestling team performed admirably at the Las Vegas Invitational, injecting some Panther pride into an otherwise bleak weekend.

Wrestling

Pitt’s wrestling team, which recently entered the top-25 rankings at No. 24, sent four Panthers to the podium over the weekend at the 37th Annual Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

Redshirt first-year Micky Phillippi led the way with a second-place finish in the 133-pound weight class, knocking off Ohio State junior Luke Pletcher in an impressive 2-1 decision in the semifinals before losing in the finals.

The team’s next top finishers were junior Demetrius Thomas, finishing fourth in the heavyweight division, redshirt junior Taleb Rahmani, taking fifth place at 157 pounds and redshirt first-year Nino Bonaccorsi, who finished seventh at 184 pounds.

These Panthers helped lead the team to a seventh-place finish out of 43 teams — Pitt’s best finish since 2008.

Pitt’s next action comes Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Fitzgerald Field House in the Backyard Brawl versus West Virginia.

Basketball

For the second straight year and 19th time in the past 21 meetings, the Pitt men’s basketball took down its crosstown rival Duquesne, 74-53, in the annual City Game Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Despite not making any 3-pointers until the game’s final minutes, the Panthers enjoyed a massive advantage at the free-throw line, getting to the line 27 times while the Dukes did so just 13 times. Pitt also played smothering defense, forcing 22 turnovers and holding its opponent to just 33 percent shooting on the game.

Although the contest was close through the first half, Pitt finally started to take advantage of Duquesne’s mistakes in the second, scoring 22 points off turnovers while the Dukes scored just three.

First-year guard Trey McGowens, despite shooting just 2 of 7 from the field, finished as Pitt’s leading point-scorer on the night with 14, thanks to knocking down a game-high 10 of 12 free throws.

First-year point guard Xavier Johnson just barely managed to keep his program record double-digit scoring streak alive at eight games, finishing with 10 points and a team-leading five assists. Junior guard Malik Ellison contributed 13 points of his own, while senior forward Jared Wilson-Frame scored 12 and made two of the team’s three 3-pointers.

The Panthers will head back to their home-campus Petersen Events Center for their next game, a Monday night matchup with Niagara.

Football

After ruining an opponent’s perfect season for two straight years — first Clemson in 2016, followed by Miami in 2017 — another upset victory seemed like a possibility for Pitt football, despite entering Saturday night’s ACC Championship game versus No. 2 Clemson as 28-point underdogs.

But after an ugly first five minutes, it quickly became apparent that this was no Cinderella story and Pitt was drastically overmatched by the undefeated Tigers. In the end, the same weaknesses that plagued the Panthers all season — an anemic passing game and a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot — materialized Saturday night, leading to a discouraging 42-10 loss at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Clemson’s top-five defense harassed sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett into a career-worst performance, as he completed just 4 of 16 passes for 8 yards while turning the ball over twice in the first half. The Tigers scored off each of those turnovers, building up a 28-10 lead by halftime.

It also didn’t help that the Panthers committed five ill-timed penalties for 30 yards in the first half, and eight penalties for 54 yards in the whole game. Things didn’t get much better in the second half, with Pitt being held to zero points, 75 yards rushing and 3 yards passing. Clemson, meanwhile, tacked on 14 more points in the fourth quarter after not scoring in the third to cruise to its fourth straight ACC title, 42-10.

Next up, the Panthers (7-6) will take on Stanford (8-4) in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Volleyball

Pitt volleyball thought 2018 would be its year after losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament the past two years — but Michigan ended the Panthers’ dreams of dancing into the Sweet 16 on Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center.

The tournament started off well for the No. 12 Panthers, who got to host games for the first time ever. Pitt dominated Iona in its first match, winning in three straight sets by margins of 26-24, 25-18 and 25-15.

Despite the win, Pitt suffered a huge loss when sophomore outside hitter Kayla Lund was carried off the court with a right ankle injury during the third set.

The loss of Lund — Pitt’s season leader in kills and aces — may have had an effect in Pitt’s next match, a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Michigan.

Redshirt sophomore Zoi Faki filled in for Lund, having only played in 29 sets previously this year. She was second for Pitt in kills against Michigan with 12, but was also charged with five attack errors and three serve receive errors.

After forcing a fifth set and getting up 3-2, the Wolverines went on a 9-0 run to take a decisive 11-3 lead. The Panthers battled back to make it 13-9, but Michigan closed it out to take the set and the match, thus moving on in the tournament and ending Pitt’s season.

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