Panther-Lair – Xavier stopped Pitt’s NCAA Tournament by a score of 84-73

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Greensboro, NC – Pitt’s bid to make the Sweet 16 fell short with an 84–73 loss to Xavier the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. First time since 2016.

Pitt fell behind by double digits the second half, but the Panthers made one last spirited push in the final game of the season. The Panthers got within 8 points on a Greg Elliott three-pointer to make it 76–68 with 1:45 remaining in the game. The Musketeers put up some struggle at the free throw line, which kept the Panthers within striking distance.

Xavier shot 16-of-26 from the line for the game, which raised Pitt’s hopes.

Blake Hinson’s three-pointer with 34.4 left to make it 82–73, but Xavier buckled at the end of the line and Pitt missed its final two shot attempts and the comeback bid ultimately fizzled out too late the game. I.

Pitt took a 15–14 advantage on a Nike Sibande layup at the 13:15 mark of the first half, but it was almost all Xavier until Pitt’s late rally. The Big East squad used a 7–0 run to extend the 30–24 advantage to 37–24, and the momentum clearly swung their favor.

The Musketeers held the Panthers on fire the first half with a 52% performance from the floor. Xavier guard Adam Kunkel lit up the Panthers with 15 points via three-pointers. Kunkel was held goalless in the second half, but was also one of five Xavier players to reach double figures as a balanced attack gave Pitt some trouble.

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The Musketeers were led by 7’0” Jack Nunz, who finished with 18 points, with 14 coming in the first half. Big man Xavier was 8-of-12 from the floor, and the Panthers never really had an answer for him. Nanz eventually fouled with 3:19 remaining in the game and scored only four points after halftime.

Xavier star player Sauli Baum was held goalless in the first half and finished only 3-for-13 from the field. His 14 points in the second half certainly took the slack for the Musketeers and kept Pitt on the ropes.

Xavier’s early burst in the first half came with great movement. Sean Miller’s teammate finished with 22 assists on 30 made field goals, including 17 assists in the first half. The Musketeers shot 47% from the floor for the game.

On Sunday, Xavier played on offense, with the Panthers struggling to make shots. Pitt guards Jamerius Burton and Nellie Cummings were a combined 10-of-32 in this one.

Burton finished with 16 points, but he had to work very hard to get there. Cummings finished with 9 points on 3 of 14 shooting. The Panthers were led by Blake Hinson, who finished with 18 points. Hinson was 3-of-8 from three-point range, including a moon shot with 4:33 left in the second half to ignite the Pitt crowd and make it 74–60.

In addition to Hinson, Pitt did not hit his outside shots against Xavier, and also struggled to find open looks at times. The Panthers were 6-of-20 for the game from three-point range. Xavier did an effective job of stopping Pitt from scoring in the second half, limiting his outside appearances.

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Several times in the second half, Pitt tried to go with smaller lineups. Jeff Capel opted to use Hinson as a center with a four-guard lineup, but the Panthers were not allowing shots to from deep. Despite trailing by double digits to start the second half, Pitt attempted only four three-pointers in the first ten minutes after halftime.

Federico Federico, Pitt’s starting center, returned to action Friday against Iowa State after missing Tuesday’s first four games, but was largely a non-factor. He was even less effective against Javier, as he only played one minute and spent most of the game on the sidelines of the bench on an exercise bike. Capel said that there was a noticeable limp and that he did not want to injure him further.

In place of Federico, Guillermo Díaz Graham made his third consecutive start. The freshman center finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for a strong finish to his season.

Despite being confined inside, Pitt battles Glass. Xavier dominated the rebounding to win 44–41. The Panthers shot exceptionally well from the free throw line on Friday (25 of 29), but finished only 13-of-20 against Xavier, as some fatigue probably played a role after playing the third tournament game in six days.

Pitt won two NCAA tournament games this year for the first time since 2009. The Panthers were picked to finish 14th in the ACC. Jeff Capel, after four straight losing seasons to open his Pitt tenure, was likely coaching for his job. He led Pitt back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 and won ACC Coach of the Year along the way.

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The Panthers lost four players: Jamerius Burton, Nellie Cummings, Greg Elliott and Nike Sibande. Pitt will bring back two starters, leading scorer Blake Hinson, along with Federico Federico inside. Diaz is set to return after making serious progress with the Graham Twins down the stretch and the Panthers already have three rookies signed in the Class of 2023, highlighted by a pair of four-star recruits.