Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
Pitt men’s basketball (10-11 overall, 6-10 ACC) was unable to overcome sluggishness on both ends of the court early. The Panthers’ comeback effort fell short in a 77-62 loss at Clemson (16-6 overall, 10-6 ACC) on Saturday afternoon.
It was a nightmare start for the Panthers. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, Pitt was flat. The Panthers committed a litany of turnovers and failed to bring the kind of defensive effort they exhibited last time out against Wake Forest.
The Tigers moved the ball expertly inside and out. Senior forward Aamir Simms was brilliant passing out of the post to find open shooters or teammates who could make the extra pass to find cutting teammates. Clemson terrorized Pitt from 3-point distance, making seven of 13 attempts in the first half.
Al-Amir Dawes was lethal throughout the game. He finished with 21 points, all coming by way of the 3-pointer.
Pitt shot the ball efficiently as well, but was undone by litany of turnovers. By the time the Panthers had made their seventh field goal, they had committed seven turnovers as well.
Sophomore forward Justin Champagnie — Pitt’s leading scorer and rebounder and an ACC Player of the Year Candidate — was glaringly ordinary on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers. He tallied only three points and two rebounds while attempting just three shots in the first half. He was able to score eight points in the second period to reach the double-digit point threshold, but his points did little to affect the game.
In his postgame press conference, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel used part of his time speaking to the media to rail against what he perceives as unfair treatment from ACC officials. Capel said postgame that he thinks Champagnie and the rest of the Panthers are being officiated differently than the rest of the teams in the league.
Champagnie has made his living around the basket by rebounding and converting close-range shots at high clips. As his play improved and reputation grew this season, Champagnie became the focal point of targeted defensive gameplans. Opposing defenders have been more physical with him, but it hasn’t resulted in an uptick of free throw attempts or foul calls.
Capel pointed out after the game that despite all of the contact he endured, Champagnie didn’t attempt a free throw at all on Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t like the way he’s officiated, just to be completely honest with you,” Capel said. “I’ve been around this league for a really long time as a player and a coach, and when you’re one of the best players in the league, you usually don’t go through a game where you play 30 minutes and don’t shoot a free throw when you’re not just a jump shooter.”
His complaints against ACC officiating focused on how Champagnie has been treated, but added that it’s affected his entire team. Capel said he’s noticed how other teams seem to get away with more trash talk or complaining, and ended the press conference with a colorful summation of his feelings.
“It’s not right,” Capel said. “So I know I’m wrong for what I’m saying because you can’t say anything [about officiating]. I like those [referees]. They’re really good guys, but this is some bulls—.”
But while Champagnie’s production lagged in the first half, his teammates picked up the slack. All nine of the Panthers who saw the floor in the first half scored at least three points. Sophomore forward Karim Coulibaly led the way with seven.
Pitt closed the gap to only two, 36-38, by halftime, but Clemson quickly separated after the intermission. Dawes, redshirt sophomore Nick Honor and junior forward Hunter Tyson all hit 3-pointers within the first six minutes of the second half to help push their lead back to double-digits, 52-41, with under 14 minutes left in the game.
The Panthers did not have the stamina to make such an ambitious comeback attempt again in the second half. The Tigers never looked back. Easy shot after easy shot rained in and the Panthers were helpless, even as their own offense found rhythm.
Sophomore guard Ithiel Horton found his stroke in the second half, making a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with 11 points on 4-9 shooting from the field.
With the regular season now over, Pitt awaits the ACC Tournament. The Panthers will begin the postseason this coming Tuesday as the No. 12 seed against Miami. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. from Greensboro, North Carolina.