After ending ACC skid, Pitt visits No. 15 NC State
The Pittsburgh Panthers are coming off their first Atlantic Coast Conference victory in nearly two years.
Starting a conference winning streak won't be easy.
Pitt plays at No. 15 North Carolina State on Saturday, with the Wolfpack eager to get back to their dominance on the boards after taking a 90-82 home loss to No. 12 North Carolina on Tuesday.
"I told the team at the end of the game in the locker room, when you score 82 points, that's enough to win the game," NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. "We've got to do a better job cleaning up some of the mistakes that we made. I thought they did a great job of beating us to some 50-50 balls, and obviously, we gave up a lot of rebounds."
The Wolfpack (13-2, 1-1 ACC) have a plus-nine rebounding margin for the season, but the Tar Heels outrebounded NC State by 18. The Wolfpack had been off to their best start to a season since 1973-74, when they won the national championship.
Pitt (11-4, 1-1) doesn't have the size or rebounding muscle like North Carolina has, but it will try to attack with the potent freshman backcourt of Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson. They combined for 54 points -- 33 from McGowens on 12-of-19 shooting -- in an 89-86 overtime win against visiting Louisville on Wednesday night.
That was the Panthers' first regular-season ACC victory since beating Florida State on Feb. 18, 2017.
"Tonight was huge for us. I'd be lying if I tried to play it down," said first-year Pitt coach Jeff Capel, who spent the past seven seasons as a Duke assistant after gaining head coaching experience at Oklahoma and Virginia Commonwealth.
"I've talked to these guys since I took this job, and we got together as a group that we're not going to be the most talented team. We're not; that's the reality. But that doesn't mean that we can't be the better team."
Capel is building something with his young backcourt. Johnson averages team-highs with 16.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. McGowens averages 13.8 points. Another freshman, forward Au'Diese Toney, pulls down a team-best 5.9 rebounds per game.
The Pitt defense has been stout, too. The Panthers forced 18 Louisville turnovers, and they are holding opponents to 38.4 percent shooting from the field, including 28.3 percent from beyond the arc.
NC State also can pour in points from the backcourt -- and the Wolfpack have experience. Senior Torin Dorn leads the team with 14.3 points per game, followed by junior Markell Johnson (12.3). Sophomore guard Braxton Beverly came off the bench against the Tar Heels to score 21 points, hitting 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Perhaps NC State's best hope Saturday is to re-assert that rebounding margin, especially on the offensive glass, against a Pitt team that was outrebounded by 10 in the win over Louisville.
"I like where my team is at. I like how we fought," Keatts said after the loss to North Carolina. "I told our guys that if we clean up some things, then we have a chance to be a really good basketball team. ... We won't be defined by one game."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 11, 2019