The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Pitt men’s basketball advances to ACC semifinals with win over Wake Forest

Junior+guard+Ishmael+Leggett+%285%29+shoots+during+a+game+against+Notre+Dame+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center+on+Saturday.+
Bronco York | Staff Photographer
Junior guard Ishmael Leggett (5) shoots during a game against Notre Dame at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday.

Coming into Thursday, bracketologists tagged Pitt men’s basketball’s ACC Tournament matchup against Wake Forest as a must-win for each team. But the Panthers were up to the challenge, defeating the Demon Deacons 81-69.

Junior guard Ishmael Leggett led Pitt over Wake Forest by scoring 30 points. Senior forward Blake Hinson also scored 20 for the Panthers in their win. 

Hinson wasn’t shocked by Leggett’s play on Thursday afternoon, as the junior guard recently won ACC Sixth Man of the Year.

“That’s the Sixth Man of the Year,” Hinson said. “So it shouldn’t really hit too many people by surprise, and he played good for us today.”

The Panthers made their first two baskets via a layup. The Demon Deacons did the same, as neither team could capitalize on jump shots.

It wasn’t until the 15:59 mark that Leggett opened up the three-point scoring as he hit a triple after the Panthers missed their first two attempts from beyond the arc. Leggett ultimately scored nine points in the early part of the game.

Leggett’s offensive burst allowed Hinson to find more open shots and go 2-2 from deep. Hinson scored 10 points for the Panthers in the first 12 minutes of action. The duo of Hinson and Leggett allowed the Panthers to enjoy a 25-16 lead at the under-eight-minute media timeout.

In the final eight minutes of the first half, the Panthers defense proved bothersome to the Demon Deacons, as Pitt only allowed Wake Forest to score 10 points in the half’s waning moments.

The Panthers led 38-26 at the break. The only reason the Demon Deacons stayed in contention at the break was because of the scoring from junior guard Cameron Hildreth and junior center Efton Reid who had 10 and 7, respectively.

In the second half, the Panthers slowed the pace down, as they earned four early fouls that allowed the Demon Deacons to cut Pitt’s lead as low as eight points via a 7-0 run.

But Leggett responded with another strong half, as he came off the bench at the 18:19 mark.

Leggett — who grew up right outside of DC — scored seven straight points for the Panthers and extended the Pitt lead to 48-35 with 15:12 left in regulation.

With Leggett scoring at will, the Panthers’ defense didn’t allow the Demon Deacons to have it easy. The Panthers forced multiple turnovers, including one that caused a shot clock violation and fired up the entire Pitt bench.

And no one on the Panthers bench went more wild than first-year forward Papa Amadou Kante, who tries to give as much energy to the Panthers that he can.

“I’m just trying to help my team,” Kante said. “I know it’s tough for them, so I got to be the energy guy on the bench.”

Pitt’s defensive dominance allowed the Panthers to earn open shots and get out to a 17 point lead against the Demon Deacons. 

But the Demon Deacons weren’t going to give up this easily. Down 57-40, Wake Forest went on a 9-0 run that included two threes from junior guard Hunter Sallis and a converted and-one by Hildreth, cutting it to an eight-point lead for the Panthers. 

Wake Forest nearly cut the deficit to six on a layup, but Hinson came up clutch and blocked a Demon Deacon shot that let Lowe score a transition layup.

With Pitt leading 61-51, the Demon Deacons kept fighting, as Sallis hit a layup and a senior forward Andrew Carr converted an and-one layup. 

The Demon Deacons kept chipping away. Carr, Hildreth and Sallis continued bothering the Panthers defense and eventually cut it to a three point game at 65-62.

But Leggett slowed down the Wake Forest run. The junior grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, giving Pitt a 67-62 lead. The Demon Deacons responded again, but this time, Hinson countered Wake Forest with a second-chance tip-in that gave Pitt a 69-64 lead with 2:48 to go.

In the final moments, with the season on the line, the Panthers refused to allow the Demon Deacons to take this game away. 

And Leggett was the catalyst of this. He knew the importance of staying calm in these pressure induced moments.

“Just staying poised,” Leggett said. “It’s a testament to our whole conference play. We started 1-5 and now we are here about to play UNC tomorrow. It’s just who we are as individuals and as a collective it’s a special group.”

Pitt cruised into the 81-69 victory. The Panthers’ win over the Demon Deacons keeps the Panthers hopes alive of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Pitt fans can watch the Panthers attempt to put themselves in a great position of earning a bid to March Madness tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN against North Carolina.

Head coach Jeff Capel is just excited for the opportunity to play tomorrow.

“When you get to this point of the season, you want to have the opportunity to keep playing,” Capel said. “And we feel very fortunate we get to play tomorrow.”

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer