Pitt bounced by Boston College in ACC Tournament’s first round, 66-46


AP Photo/John Minchillo

Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel works the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s tournament, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in New York.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

NEW YORK — The first time Pitt men’s basketball met Boston College on the hardwood, sophomore forward John Hugley dominated. He tallied 32 points and 13 rebounds, while making 15 of 20 attempts from the free throw line.

It looked like Hugley was well on his way to posting a similar stat line when the Panthers and Eagles met in the opening game of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday afternoon. Instead, his performance more closely mirrored the nine-point, five-rebound outing he had in this season’s second game against Boston College.

Hugley struggled with foul trouble against the Eagles (12-19 overall, 7-19 ACC), who used a 25-6 run that spanned both halves to run away with a 66-46 victory over Pitt (11-21 overall, 6-15) in the first round of the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center. The loss marked Pitt’s second consecutive first round conference tournament exit.

From the tip, Hugley was a threat from all over the court. He pulled up for short range jump shots and drove after utilizing the pump fake to score his first eight points, all before missing a shot.

Boston College adjusted and sent an extra defender or two to help out their own junior forward Quinten Post, who drew the assignment of defending Hugley initially. But Hugley took the added challenge in stride and found effective ways to pass out of double teams and keep his teammates involved. Senior guard Jamarius Burton, who also tallied eight first-half points, was the beneficiary of the attention the Eagles paid to Hugley.

Pitt played the Eagles evenly and even took leads at both the 13:20 and 4:52 mark of the first half. It led 22-21 with just under five minutes to go after graduate forward Mouhamadou Gueye knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing.

But the ensuing 10 and a half minutes were a nightmare for the beleaguered Panthers. From the moment Gueye’s triple passed through the net, Boston College embarked on a 25-4 run that spanned two halves and sank the Panthers.

The open looks that Pitt had created off of Hugley touches stopped materializing. The shots that fell initially started to rim out. The turnovers that the Panthers had used to overcome hot shooting from the Eagles disappeared. The Eagles collapsed on Hugley and forced Pitt reserves to take shots that rarely fell.

Post said Hugley was a focal point of the game plan, and that he and his teammates took on that challenge well.

“He started off well,” Post said. “Then he also made some jump shots. We kind of said that we were going to live with the jump shots. … I think we did a better job after the first few minutes.”

Sophomore guard DeMarr Langford Jr. said he could begin to see the game unravel as halftime approached. When the Panthers didn’t score in the final five minutes of the first half, Langford and the Eagles saw blood in the water and pounced.

“I kind of saw it was breaking away at the four-minute mark of the second half,” Langford said. “I think at that point they had 22 points and they ended the half with 22 points. … We played aggressive and it gave them a little bit of a shock, I guess.”

Hugley’s second foul coincided with the beginning of the run — and signaled it, according to Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. The star forward picked up his second penalty with 4:14 left in the first half and Capel recalled him to the bench, hoping to protect the star player from further foul trouble. Hugley exited with his team trailing by just two and, without him, Pitt played its worst stretch of the afternoon.

The foul trouble that faced starting guards Burton and sophomore Femi Odukale compounded Pitt’s struggles, according to Capel.

“I thought when [Hugley] picked up his second foul, that’s when the game changed,” Capel said. “We didn’t have a guy that we could go to inside that we felt could draw double teams, get other guys shots. And we were in incredible foul trouble … And so we had some lineups out there that we really hadn’t played with or practiced with.”

The Eagles embarked on a 12-0 closing run that gave them a 33-22 advantage entering the half, which they did not relinquish. They picked it right back up in the second, scoring 13 of the period’s first 17 points. The Panthers didn’t get any closer than 10 for the rest of the game.

Pitt closed the 2021-22 season with a whimper and emphatic blowout loss at the hands of a team that Capel said they expected to beat. The Panthers both endured bad luck and created it themselves during the program’s sixth consecutive losing season. After the small glimmers of hope that materialized over the course of this year, Pitt ended it in a familiarly bleak place. 

“Through the close losses, the heartbreaking losses, … we continued to fight and because of that we got better,” Capel said. “And we showed glimpses of what we could possibly be. We were just never able to be consistent with it. … It’s just we’ve come up very, very short.”