Pitt men’s basketball earn crucial win over Wake Forest 81-79


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Graduate student guard Nelly Cummings (0) dribbles the ball during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Wake Forest on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

After suffering a tough loss last Saturday, Pitt (14-7, 7-3 ACC) entered Wednesday night’s game looking to get back on track against a hot Wake Forest (14-7, 6-4 ACC) squad. 

On the night the program celebrated the 35th anniversary of Jerome Lane’s infamous “Send it in” dunk, the Panthers earned one of their most momentous wins in recent memory as they bested the Demon Deacons 81-79

Head coach Jeff Capel talked about the team’s strong offensive performance after the game.

“I thought we were very good offensively,” Capel said. “I thought we learned from the last game as far as moving the basketball.”

Junior forward Blake Hinson and graduate student guard Greg Elliott shot a combined 14-for-23 from three-point range, leading the way in an impressive offensive showing that involved masterful shot-making on both sides. 

Hinson and Elliott gave the Panthers an early 6-0 lead with back-to-back threes on the first two possessions of the game. Wake Forest clapped back with an 8-0 run thanks to threes from redshirt junior guard Damari Monsanto and graduate student guard Tyree Appleby. 

The Panthers continued their prolific shooting performance after the media timeout at the 16:04 mark as Elliott and Hinson once again traded threes, lengthening Pitt’s lead to 18-10. Following a resurgence from the Demon Deacons that trimmed the game to 20-19, graduate student guard Jamarius Burton hit sophomore forward Nate Santos with a backdoor pass and subsequent two-hand slam, pushing the Panthers lead to 22-19. 

Sophomore guard Cameron Hildreth gave Wake Forest the lead with a tough finish off the backboard, making it 26-25 at the 8:32 mark. Pitt didn’t give the Demon Deacons a chance to expand it though, as an 8-3 run gave the Panthers a 33-28 advantage going into the TV timeout.

Hinson’s fourth-straight make from behind-the-arc at the 5:55 mark gave the Panthers a 38-28 lead, marking their first double-digit advantage of the game. Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande sank a pair of free-throws at the 1:01 mark, growing the lead to 49-34, but Wake Forest cut the Panther lead back down to 10 within the final minute, making it 49-39 going into halftime. 

Pitt’s 49-point output was their highest of any first half this season. The offensive explosion came on the back of their 52.9% shooting from deep, which was aided by impressive ball movement that resulted in 13 assists. The Panthers also limited their turnovers in a big way, recording just two during the half. According to Elliot, he felt that the Panthers were at their best when they played selflessly, always finding the open man.

“When we’re moving the ball like that, I feel like we’re a pretty tough team to beat,” Elliott said. 

Hinson was the only player for either team who broke the double-digit scoring plateau during the half, recording 15 points to lead the team while Hildreth and Monsanto paced the Demon Deacons with eight each. 

Wake Forest made a concerted effort driving the ball inside and applied pressure on the Pitt defense in the second half, which led to four early fouls on the Panthers and high-percentage looks from the perimeter. 

The Demon Deacons also made adjustments on the other end, suffocating Pitt’s offense early on in the half by switching to a 1-3-1 zone defense. Ultimately, Wake Forest cut Pitt’s lead to three at the 13:01 mark after the Panthers once led by 15 points. 

A drive-and-kick from Burton to Sibande on the wing led to a rare good look for Pitt against the zone, which expanded their lead to 65-60. A Burton floater on the ensuing possession further pushed it to 67-60. 

Wake Forest wasted no time responding, as back-to-back layups from junior forward Davion Bradford and Appleby cut the Panthers lead to 67-63 headed into the media timeout at 8:33. Hinson and graduate student guard Daivien Williamson then traded threes on four straight possessions, pushing the game to 73-70. 

The Demon Deacons captured a 74-73 lead at the 4:34 mark. That wouldn’t last for long though, as Elliott and Hinson each hit a catch-and-shoot three, taking back the lead and making it a 79-74 game. 

Sophomore center Federiko Federiko pushed the lead to 81-74 on a second-chance opportunity, but an Appleby stepback three from the corner on the following possession made it 81-77.

Wake Forest earned a chance to tie it at the 0:37 mark late in the second half with Hildreth at the line for two free throws, but he went on to miss both and squander a monstrous opportunity, keeping the game at 81-79. 

The Panthers saw an opportunity to clinch the game on the next possession but ended up taking a shot-clock violation after Hinson passed up an open look in favor of kicking it to Cummings as time expired. Capel said that those sort of mishaps can’t happen in the future.

“Blake should’ve shot the ball,” Capel said. “We have to know the clock in that situation. That was a mistake, but we didn’t allow it to carry over.”

That afforded Wake Forest the ball and a prime opportunity to tie or take the lead with 6.1 seconds left. Appleby took the ball after a Pitt timeout and proceeded to miss a pull-up three, clinching the win for the Panthers. 

Pitt showed resilience in the second half, weathering the storm as Wake Forest came marching back and were able to count on their playmakers, coming up clutch when the team needed it most. Capel praised the team’s poise in crucial spots throughout the game.

“We didn’t allow them making tough shots to demoralize us,” Capel said. “We just kept playing, and it helped that we kept scoring.” 

Pitt’s 18 three-pointers broke a program record and gave the Panthers a cushion as they worked on figuring out how to attack the Demon Deacons’ zone. Elliott said the barrage from deep was a long time coming. 

“It’s something we talk about all the time,” Elliott said. “To finally see it come true, it was big time. I’m happy we did it with a win.” 

The Panthers ACC schedule continues with a matchup against Miami on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Tipoff is at 4:00 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.