PITTSBURGH (AP)Pittsburgh has spent the better part of a decade spinning its wheels near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Panthers may finally be gaining traction by using a formula that made the program successful during its lengthy stay near the top of the Big East during the 2000s.
A whole lot of defense. A little bit of shotmaking. And more than a dash of grit.
Blake Hinson and Nike Sibande scored 16 points apiece, Jamarius Burton added 15 and Pitt rallied by No. 11 Virginia 68-65 on Tuesday night to move to 4-0 in the ACC for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
The Panthers (11-4) did it behind staggering second half in which they lit up Virginia’s normally staunch defense for 45 points, all without committing a turnover.
”You have to be tough for 40 minutes, you have to be together and you have to fight (to beat Virginia),” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. ”Once we got into the rhythm of the game in the second half we were able to do some really, really good things.”
The Panthers used a 14-0 second-half run to get back in it and then took charge late to keep Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett at 326 career wins at Virginia, still tied with Terry Holland for the most in program history.
A layup by Federiko Federiko with 59 seconds left put the Panthers up 62-60 and Pitt forced the Cavaliers (10-3, 2-2) into a shot-clock violation on their ensuing possession. Six straight made free throws in the final seconds helped the Panthers end an eight-game losing streak to Virginia.
”This is a blue-collar game,” Bennett said. ”It’s a blue-collar town. It’s a blue-collar team. … We had a lot of breakdowns defensively and it cost us.”
Kihei Clark scored 17 points for the Cavaliers. Armaan Franklin added 14 but Virginia’s defense crumbled over the final 20 minutes as the Panthers found their footing and kept finding ways to get to the basket for layups or draw contact to go to the foul line.
Pitt outrebounded the Cavaliers 32-28, outscored them 15-4 at the free-throw line and shot 52% in the second half to follow up a win over then-No. 25 North Carolina last Friday with another surprise.
The Panthers paid tribute to Buffalo Bills defensive back and former Pitt football player Damar Hamlin a day after Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during Buffalo’s game at Cincinnati and had to be resuscitated on the field.
The players wore blue and gold T-shirts with ”Chasing Millions” emblazoned on the front, the name of Hamlin’s foundation. Fans also stood and applauded during a first-half timeout as well-wishes from across the sports world flashed on the video board above the court. Hamlin was in critical condition Tuesday at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Though he last played football at Pitt in the fall of 2020, Hamlin has a relationship with several Panthers basketball players, one of the reasons they felt it was important to show their support.
”(Hamlin) is a real genuine person,” Sibande said. ”He really wants to help everybody out. He’s really giving and he wants to help everybody out.”
The Panthers wore a second warm-up T-shirt that read ”Pitt stands with UVA” and featured the uniform numbers of the three Cavaliers football players – Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry – who were fatally shot on the Virginia campus in November. Davis, Chandler and Perry were also honored with a moment of silence before the opening tip.
Virginia: The Cavaliers’ defense appeared on its way to another typical lights-out performance after limiting the Panthers to 14 points over the first 16 minutes. It didn’t happen. Pitt knocked down a handful of 3-pointers to get going and when the Cavaliers extended their defense, the Panthers attacked the rim.
Pitt: The starting five began the night having 88 combined starts at Pitt. Clark, by contrast, made his 121st start for the Cavaliers. Yet the Panthers are appearing to jell quickly, building on the optimism Capel had in the preseason that his group would make up for in collective experience what it lacked in familiarity with each other.
Virginia: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.
Pitt: Hosts Clemson on Saturday.
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