Panthers flake versus Wake, lose 69-65


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior guard Ryan Murphy made three of his seven 3-point attempts against Binghamton Friday night.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

When Pitt downed Florida State in the season opener last November the possibilities seemed endless. Pitt had a winning conference record for the first time since 2016 and head coach Jeff Capel’s rebuild appeared to be right on track. 

13 games later, Capel and his Panthers have been knocked down a peg. Pitt (10-4, 1-2 ACC) squandered a 16-point first half lead and lost, 69-65 to Wake Forest (8-5, 1-2 ACC) on Saturday afternoon. 

The Panthers started hot, jumping out to a 16-point lead with 10:48 left in the first half off the strength of 12 points from junior guard Ryan Murphy. Over that stretch, Murphy shot 5-6 from the floor and 2-2 from 3-point range. 

Murphy had struggled through his last few games, and was eager to prove that he belonged at this level.

“I was reading some stuff on Twitter and it was basically saying I couldn’t shoot,” Murphy said. “So, I went home to the gym near my house and it felt good… Guys do a good job of finding me when I’m open, so I feel like I got going and it felt like it was back… The jumpshot is back.”

But for as crisp as they were to open the game, the Panthers’ roar fell silent.The Demon Deacons outscored Pitt 24-6 to close the half down only three. Junior 7-foot center Oliver Starr posted six points and five rebounds off the bench to spark Wake’s comeback. 

To aid the Deacon’s push, Pitt went ice cold from the field, which Capel attributed to stagnant offense and a lack of ball movement.

The second half was more of the same. Wake finished what they started before the intermission. The Deacons held steady through the first 12 minutes of the period, keeping themselves within a possession of the Panthers. 

But a 10-0 blitz of their own opened up an eight-point lead — their largest of the game — with 8:14 remaining in regulation. 

On the ensuing Wake possession, Pitt sophomore guard Xavier Johnson fouled Wake’s first-year forward Ismael Mossoud while shooting a 3-pointer. Johnson, Capel and the home crowd were irate. And while Capel plead his case to the officials, assistant coach Tim O’Toole gave his players an animated tongue lashing.

O’Toole’s passion inspired his Panthers, who came out of the timeout with renewed energy and intensity on defense. Pitt forced Wake into three consecutive turnovers and cut the deficit to one with 2:43 remaining and sophomore guard Trey McGowens headed to the line. 

But, in shades of last season’s soul-crushing overtime loss at Wake Forest, McGowens missed the two free throws. Pitt was unable to get clean looks at the basket and did not score over the final 3:07 of the game. Wake then iced their first ACC win of the season with free throws to win by four. 

Murphy paced all scorers with 18 points on 4-6 shooting on 3-pointers and added four assists for good measure. McGowens, despite stumbling late, finished 12 points behind Murphy. 

The Demon Deacons were led by stalwart senior guard Brandon Childress, who despite scoring only eight points, turned in what head coach Danny Manning called “one of his best floor performances.” 

Childress added six assists to only two turnovers, while Mossoud and graduate transfer guard Torry Johnson picked up the scoring load with 14 and 12 points respectively. 

Capel was disappointed in his team for leaving an essential win on the table and challenged his team to grow up and play with the right poise to win close games. 

“Down the stretch, [we were] disappointing in our last few possessions, we didn’t get the shots we wanted,” Capel said. “That’s on all of us and we have to do a better job knowing where we want to get the shots from and making sure we can execute to do that. We can’t panic.”

The panic Capel was referring to manifested itself in the closing minute, when Johnson and McGowens missed key shots to ensure a loss. For as athletic and talented these Panthers are, they’re still young and panic in clutch moments is common for young people

But as ACC play heats up, there’s no time for panic. The Panthers avoid their first consecutive losses of the season when they travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to face UNC on Wednesday night.