ICYMI: Basketball, wrestling performances headline winter break

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ICYMI: Basketball, wrestling performances headline winter break

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson (1) goes up for a dunk during Pitt’s 87-79 victory over Canisius.

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson (1) goes up for a dunk during Pitt’s 87-79 victory over Canisius.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson (1) goes up for a dunk during Pitt’s 87-79 victory over Canisius.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson (1) goes up for a dunk during Pitt’s 87-79 victory over Canisius.

By Ben Mankowski and Marshall Worth

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While the student body at large kicked its feet up around the holiday fireplace, Pitt’s winter athletes stayed active as ever over break. The Panther football team, wrestling team and basketball teams were among those who competed during the three-week hiatus.

Men’s basketball dominates non-conference competition

The Panthers had a successful stretch of wins during break, beating Northern Illinois, Binghamton and Canisius. Their only loss came to Wake Forest most recently on Jan. 4. Pitt is now 10-4 as it enters the next stage of the season.

Northern Illinois gave the Panthers all they could handle on Dec. 16. Sophomore Trey McGowens highlighted the scoring effort with 18 points off the bench. Pitt managed to shoot just 4-17 from three, with all four makes coming from McGowens. Despite the poor shooting, the Panthers held off the upset-minded Huskies to start off the break with a win.

Pitt won its next game handily against the Binghamton Bearcats, 79-53. The Panthers dominated from the opening tip-off, outscoring Binghamton by 20 in the first half. First-year forward Justin Champagnie posted a double-double with 10 rebounds and 14 points to further his reputation as an X-factor.

Following a week-long break for Christmas, the Panthers were back against the Canisius Golden Griffins. The rest must’ve helped, as Pitt’s offense ignited for 87 points to Canisius’ 79. The game featured loads of offense with little defense on either side.

Champagnie was again the star of this game with 21 points, only missing three shots. The Panthers shot an impressive 56.3% from 3-point range — an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled from distance all season.

The tides eventually shifted for the Panthers as they fell to Wake Forest, 69-65, in the first of 18 straight ACC games to close the season. Pitt will likely want this game back, considering the nature of the loss — the Panthers jumped out to a 16-point lead before folding down the stretch.

Junior guard Ryan Murphy was the team’s bright spot in this one, posting 18 points on 66% shooting from three.

The Panthers will look to get back in the win column when they travel to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Capel’s Christmas present

Pitt basketball’s greatest victory over break may have come off the court, when five-star Class of 2022 recruit Jalen Hood-Schifino announced his commitment to the program on Dec. 29. Hood-Schifino is a 6-foot-4 combo guard from North Carolina, who would be the program’s third highest-rated commit of all time, according to 247Sports.com. This is a huge boost to the future of the program and speaks to Capel’s recruiting abilities.

Not the merriest Christmas for women’s basketball

Pitt women’s basketball fell to 3-11 after dropping all five of its winter break games. This pushed the Panthers’ losing streak to seven games, positioning them last in the ACC standings. 

The team played its first three conference games over break, losing to North Carolina, Notre Dame and Boston College. The Panthers kept each game within single digits, but in the end, inexperience prevailed as all three contests ended in close defeat. The stretch featured two additional non conference games against Miami (Ohio) and Cincinnati, which Pitt lost by a less-inspiring 25 points combined.

Junior guard Gabbie Green continued to lead the way offensively, scoring 23 points against Miami (Ohio), 13 against the Fighting Irish and 12 against Boston College. All three performances led the team.

First-year guard Amber Brown continued her stellar work on the boards, recording multiple double-digit rebounding efforts, including 13 against UNC. 

Looking ahead, the Panthers will hope to bust out of their funk in upcoming road matchups against Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Comeback in the Quick Lane Bowl

Pitt football faced off against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 26 in the Quick Lane Bowl. After trailing throughout the game, the Panthers used one final game-winning drive to win 34-30

Trailing by three points with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, junior quarterback Kenny Pickett found redshirt junior wide receiver Taysir Mack in the end zone for a highlight one-handed catch. Pickett showed his ability to operate an offense in clutch moments of a game to push the Panthers to victory.

Pickett finished the game with 361 yards and three touchdowns, one of his best stat lines of the season. Senior receiver Maurice Ffrench and senior defensive back Damar Hamlin finished their careers off right, catching 12 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown and recording 11 tackles and an interception, respectively.

Pitt football scores signees for 2020 season

Pitt football had a busy break off the field, as 17 Pitt commits from the Class of 2020 signed their official pledges to the Panthers, most of which came on Dec. 18’s National Letter of Intent Day

Hometown hero Dayon Hayes, a four-star defensive end from Westinghouse, headlined the group along with Brooklyn running back Israel Abanikanda. They were ranked fourth and third at their position in their states, respectively, and Abanikanda scored an impressive 25 touchdowns as a senior in high school. 

Pitt’s other four-star commit, Jordan Addison from Frederick, Md., chose Pitt last June and signed his letter of intent a day later than the rest of the group. Pitt also made a key addition in the transfer portal, luring Arizona State first-year quarterback Joey Yellen — a four-star recruit at California’s Mount Viejo High School — to the team, where he will gain eligibility in 2021. 

As a whole, 247Sports.com ranks the class 41st in the country and seventh in the ACC. The average recruit rating of .8631 is also the highest in head coach Pat Narduzzi’s time at Pitt.

Wrestling continues to shine 

Pitt wrestling started off its break with a trip down to Maryland University to face off against the Terrapins on Dec. 20. The No. 10 Panthers dominated Maryland 27-10 for their fifth win of the year. 

Two Panthers stood out in the dual meet — redshirt first-year Cole Matthews, who pinned his opponent in 6:53, and redshirt junior Gregg Harvey, who took down No. 20 Philip Spadafora of the Terrapins. 

The Panthers finished their break by traveling down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Jan. 2 for the Southern Scuffle. Pitt finished fourth as a team — its highest placement in program history. 

Five Panthers placed in the Southern Scuffle. Redshirt first-year Cole Matthews finished second at 174 pounds. The Panthers had three third-place finishers — redshirt sophomores Micky Phillippi and Nino Bonaccorsi and senior Demetrius Thomas. Redshirt junior Jake Wentzel also placed sixth for the Panthers.

Next up, Pitt will face one of its toughest challenges this season when it hits the road to face No. 13 Oklahoma State Jan. 18.

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