Top moments from Pitt men’s basketball so far


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

First-year guard Trey McGowens’ (2), pictured here against Louisville, scored a game-high 26 points against Boston College Tuesday night.

By Kate Hall, Staff Writer

The Pitt men’s basketball team is in the midst of a 10-game hiatus from the win column, but that shouldn’t discredit the strides the team has made from last season. From ACC wins, streaks, sellout crowds, insane baskets and exciting dunks, the Panthers have given fans something to cheer for this season — and look forward to in the coming years.

And even though fans haven’t celebrated a win in more than a month, there are still moments worth cheering for. In no particular order, here are the top 10 moments and plays from the Panthers’ 2018-19 season so far.

  1. First points of the season

After a hopeful offseason, fans were excited to head back to the Petersen Events Center for the season opener against Youngstown State on Nov. 6. It took the Panthers almost three minutes to score but once they did — and those Oakland Zoo papers went into the air — Pitt basketball had officially returned. The points came from first-year forward Au’Diese Toney, signaling the team’s youth movement led by fellow first-year phenoms Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. The Panthers went on to win the game, 69-53, and begin their six-game win streak (0:28).

  1. First ACC win in 23 regular season games

Before beating Louisville on Jan. 9 of this year, the Panthers’ last ACC win came against Florida State on Feb. 18, 2017— almost two full seasons prior.

In this overtime thriller, Pitt outlasted the Cardinals in overtime by a score of 89-86. The entire team left their hearts out on the court — especially McGowens, who scored a team-high 33 points. His most important basket of the game came with 38 seconds left when he grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup to put Pitt ahead 88-86. Johnson hit a clutch free throw with 16 seconds left to make it 89-86, and a strong defensive stand gave the Panthers their most important win of the season (11:30).

  1. McGowens’ acrobatic and-one

Speaking of Florida State, Pitt also took down the No. 11 Seminoles this season by a score of 75-62. McGowens led Pitt again, this time with 30 points. After a blocked shot by sophomore center Terrell Brown, the ball landed right in McGowens’ hands. Rushing down the court, he chucked the ball up into the air while simultaneously completing a 180-degree turn and forcing a foul. The ball somehow went in, giving the Panthers a six-point lead that they never gave up (5:01).

  1.  Buzzer-beater

Despite hanging tight with a top team, Pitt suffered a tough one-point loss against No. 14 Iowa on Nov. 27. This nail-biter brought out the best in all the players on that court in Iowa City, including graduate guard Sidy N’Dir. With 1.7 seconds left in the first half, N’Dir put up a shot that went right through the net as the buzzer sounded, giving Pitt a 46-40 lead heading into the halftime locker room (1:06).

  1. The step-back

A highly anticipated matchup between Pitt and No. 2 Duke on Jan. 22 left fans with hope that Pitt could possibly take down such a prominent team. Unfortunately, the sellout crowd witnessed the Panthers lose to the Blue Devils, 79-64. However, the first 10 minutes of the game were still exciting.

With 13 minutes left in the first half and Duke leading by just two, senior Jared Wilson-Frame shot the Panthers right into the lead with a James Harden-esque step-back 3-pointer that crumpled the opposing defender. For just a moment, Pitt basketball was on top of the world (1:55).

  1. Spin cycle

Pitt found itself just shy of a win — a common theme this season — at Wake Forest Feb. 5, losing 78-76 in an overtime thriller. The fact that Pitt led by two with mere seconds left, only to go into overtime on a buzzer-beating basket in regulation, made this loss sting a little more.

But at least this game provided one of Pitt’s more entertaining highlights of the season. Off a steal in the defensive zone, Wilson-Frame passed ahead to Toney, who was streaking down the middle of the court. Toney smoothly spun around the Wake Forest defender for an easy fast-break layup, giving the Panthers a 26-21 lead with two minutes left in the first half (3:17).

  1. Fast-break slam

Many of these plays share a common theme — they involve Pitt’s first-year players, and they happen on the fast break. This is another example, taking place during the aforementioned Jan. 9 Louisville victory. Leading 61-53, Johnson grabbed the ball off a Brown block and instantly looked down court. He chucked a perfect lob pass ahead to McGowens, who finished it off with an emphatic one-hand dunk to put the Panthers up by double digits with 9:15 remaining (7:11).

  1. Alley-oop to Brown

Pitt faced ACC rival Syracuse on Feb. 2, walking off the court with another loss, 65-56. While it was a low moment for the team, it served as a high point for Terrell Brown, who scored a season-high 16 points.

Brown was Pitt’s leading scorer of the night, with 14 of his points coming from dunks. One of his best slams of the night happened with 14 minutes left while the Panthers were on a 7-0 run, slowly cutting the Orange’s lead to 39-32. Off an alley-oop pass from Johnson, Brown went up for the two-hand jam to bring Pitt within five of Syracuse (3:31).

  1. Ellison putback

Coming off the tough loss to Iowa, the Panthers completely outplayed Duquesne in the annual City Game Nov. 30, smacking the Dukes 74-53. Pitt’s strong offense left the gate open for many memorable moments, and one last dunk to add to the list.

Just over two minutes into the game with the Panthers down 8-0 and needing a bucket, redshirt junior Malik Ellison came out of nowhere off a missed shot by Johnson to send home a ferocious two-handed dunk (0:25).

  1. Mac Miller tribute

Before the season even started, the Pitt basketball team made a great team highlight by creating an upbeat, heartfelt video tribute to Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller, who died at the age of 26 last September.

Miller, who attended high school mere miles down the street at Squirrel Hill’s Taylor Allderdice High, gave his city a shout-out with the  2011 single “Party on Fifth Ave.” In this video, head coach Jeff Capel brings a radio out to the center of a Frick Park basketball court. He pops a tape in, the song begins and what follows is a great watch for Pitt fans and non-fans alike.

  1. The Zoo

No. 11 on this list is not dedicated to any one moment or play, but rather the people who make Pitt’s home atmosphere what it is — the Oakland Zoo.

The “Return of the Zoo” has been a key theme of the season so far. With multiple sellout crowds and even more student sellouts, the Zoo is certainly back. Although it never completely left, many of those seats in the Petersen Events Center were empty during Pitt’s loss-filled 2017-18 season.

This season has been different. From game one against Youngstown State and even throughout the Panthers’ current losing streak, you can see the fans bringing the noise and rowdiness to the student section every single home game.

Though its record might not show it, Pitt men’s basketball is back — and you can tell from the enthusiasm of the fans alone.