basketball Edit

3-Pointers: Three things that stood out in Pitt's win over Northwestern

The Pitt basketball team throttled Northwestern 87-56 on Monday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Panthers have now won four consecutive games and have a 5-3 record on the season.

Here are three things that stood out from Pitt’s win on Monday night.

A Statement in Evanston

I don’t know if anyone saw this type of game coming. In Pitt’s previous two games against Power-5 competition, the Panthers hardly looked like they belonged on the same court as West Virginia and Michigan.

I am not sure if Northwestern is a particularly good team, but the Wildcats entered the game with a 5-1 record, with their only loss to top-15 Auburn by a point. Northwestern held a top-50 ranking in KenPom and they were home favorites going into Monday night.

None of that mattered.

Pitt crushed Northwestern, plain and simple. It was not even a close game. Pitt started the second half on a 14-2 run and never looked back on the way to one of the more impressive and convincing wins of the Jeff Capel era.

This Pitt basketball team had one of the better offensive showings in the last couple of seasons, and did it against a relatively solid defensive team. Pitt had 22 assists on 26 made field goals. They shot a scorching-hot 64% from three-point range. Basically anything Northwestern threw at them, Pitt was seemingly ready for and had an answer.

I am still not entirely sure what the takeaway is of this game. Did Pitt just play really well in a one-off performance? Are they actually showing signs of improvement? Is Northwestern not very good?

Maybe a little of everything. However you want to look at it, Pitt secured an easy 29-point win on the road against a Big Ten team. It was not an expected outcome by any stretch of the imagination, but you have to credit Jeff Capel and his team for getting it done.

No Hugley, no problem

I think the biggest thing we are all waiting for this season is for John Hugley to look like…well, John Hugley. The Panthers big man missed three games in the early part of the schedule after returning from a knee injury. Hugley had reached double figures in scoring in Pitt’s previous three games, but he still seems a bit off from where he was last season.

That was especially true on Monday. Hugley finished with 0 points. He only attempted one shot, and finished with two rebounds on the night. It was a very quiet game by his standards, but in fairness Northwestern’s game plan seemed intent on double teaming him when he touched the ball.

Those defensive tactics just didn’t really bother the rest of the Panthers.

At no point last season could Pitt have won a road game against a power-five team without receiving a point from its star big man. On Monday night not only did the Panthers win with John Hugley not scoring a point, they did it with relative ease.

Pitt had five players reached double-figure scoring against Northwestern. Through eight games this season, it is getting to the point you almost can count on Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton to get there and they did just that on Monday. Hinson poured in a game-high 22 points and made four 3-pointers.

In the early stages of the game, Burton hit some tough, contested shots to keep Pitt hanging around until the offensive got up to speed. Both of those players have been big this season, and they may need to be the guys to drive the bus until Hugley regains his form.

Nike Sibande has played a lot better of late, and looks like a legitimate sixth man that can spark the team off the bench. Pitt also received 17 points from Nelly Cummings (more on him in a second).

The story here is that Hugely doesn’t seem to be himself just yet, but Pitt has a little more of a supporting cast to overcome that than last year. Again, maybe I am taking too much away from this game, but it was undeniably a great offensive performance and displayed what this team is capable of when they are clicking.

Ride Wit’ Nelly

Excuse the poor reference in the title, but all season long Pitt has just seemingly needed more from its point guard Nelly Cummings. On Monday night, the Colgate transfer delivered his best game wearing a Pitt uniform.

Cummings scored 17 points, dished out six assists, grabbed four rebounds, and only committed two turnovers. The Pitt point guard shot an effective 6-of-8 from the field and connected on 3-of-4 from three-point range. He ran the offense and shot the ball with confidence, which is exactly what they need him to be.

Cummings came into Monday night’s game shooting a career-low of 32% from the field and 20% from three-point range. He had been committing a high rate of turnovers as well. It just looked like he was pressing and it led to more mistakes than positive plays.

On Monday night it just looked like he let the game come to him, and stepped into good shots. Pitt played a more five-out style of offense, and the ball just moved around the perimeter much better than it has all season. As a team, they were taking that ‘extra pass’ that you always hear basketball analysts say on broadcasts. Pitt wasn’t settling on Monday night, they were taking the right shots.

Pitt needs Cummings to be a good player. He is really the only point guard on the roster at the moment. Perhaps some of the burden he was seemingly carrying earlier this season was due to the suspension of fellow point guard Dior Johnson, or it could have been that he is playing for Pitt as a Western Pennsylvania native and wanted to show everybody what he could. Whatever the reason Cummings was struggling early on was not present on Monday night against Northwestern.

Pitt really has no choice other than to ride with Nelly Cummings, and if he can churn out more games like this, than that could really help the team’s prospects moving forward into ACC play.