Unsung heroes Levitch, Luther shine in Pitt-Louisville


Emily Klenk | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

In a game featuring star players like Damion Lee, Chinanu Onuaku, Jamel Artis and Michael Young, one would expect the usual suspects to dominate.

But in this season’s second meeting between Pitt and Louisville Wednesday, it was a pair of unsung players that came up big for their respective teams.

In the end, it was Louisville junior guard David Levitch’s performance that pushed his Cardinals over Pitt, despite a valiant effort by reserve forward Ryan Luther.

Levitch was a walk-on up until this year, when Louisville head coach Rick Pitino awarded him a full scholarship, citing that he felt he would “help Louisville in tough situations.”

That’s precisely what he did on Wednesday night. Due to the team being “undermanned,” according to Pitino, they needed to rely on the small guard.

“David Levitch, he gave us an incredible lift,” Pitino said. “The passing was beautiful.”

He played a career-high 16 minutes, and while he finished with only eight points, it was his 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining that gave Louisville its final lead.

“I’ll use Bill Raftery’s terms,” Pitino said. “[Levitch] has got the biggest onions of all time. It doesn’t even faze him that this is a big game, and he does it every time I put him in. Tremendous moxie by the young man.”

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said the guard, who entered the night averaging 6.5 minutes per contest, was on his radar.

He recalled that Levitch had hurt Pitt from beyond-the-arc before.

“He’s been playing a little bit,” Dixon said. “Obviously, he made shots. Last game we saw him, he came in and he hit a three. Obviously he was big.”

Levitch deflected credit after the game, focusing on the team.

“I am just glad I could help my team out,” Levitch said. “People found me … We just had to stick together.”

On Pitt’s side, Luther provided a surge off the bench after Sheldon Jeter, who came in to replace Rafael Maia early in the game, picked up two quick fouls.

Dixon said that the Hampton, Pennsylvania, graduate was Pitt’s top player in the loss.

“Ryan did a great job for us,” Dixon said. “I thought he had the best performance of anybody out there, and he gave us pretty good defense.”

The first time Luther entered, it was to little fanfare, just another substitute taking the court. But after nailing a three and finishing a 3-point play, the former two-star recruit elicited chants of “LUUU” from a raucous Oakland Zoo crowd.

Like Levitch, Luther also set a career high for playing time, while also besting his top marks for points, 17, and free throws made, three, while tying his highmark in field goals made.

The sophomore said he’s been comfortable all season, and that his offensive outburst was more related to Louisville’s frontcourt not pressuring him.

“I’m pretty much always comfortable on offense,” Luther said. “The bigs just didn’t come out and guard me, so I had open shots.”

He made big shots for the Panthers, particularly during a run in which he scored six straight points for Pitt, propelling his team from a 40-39 deficit to a 46-40 lead, capping the run off with a pair of free throws after a tip-in and a 3-pointer.

That streak caused the Petersen Events Center crowd to substitute the more low-key “LUUU” incantations for blistering “RY-AN LU-THER” cadences.

Even with the loss, Dixon did note that this game was another example of Luther’s development this season, noting that the team was confident enough in him to play him at the five to match up with Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku.

“[Luther] is getting better and better,” Dixon said. “He’s finding ways. He’s scoring around the basket and getting tip-ins. He’s playing good defense, so he’s earning his minutes out there.”

Luther didn’t think that individually, and brushed off his performance as a catalyst for a hot streak.

“I’ve been comfortable pretty much all season,” Luther said. “So I didn’t really need this game to feel more confident.”

While Pitino wasn’t necessarily prepared for Luther’s big night, he said that sometimes players, like Levitch, simply show up in important moments.

“I was a little surprised [by Luther’s performance],” Pitino said. “But like David Levitch he stepped up. It’s not only the talent, but people stepping up in crucial times with the game on the line, and that’s what’s always impressive.”