Pitt opened up a busy basketball week on Sunday afternoon, surviving an early scare from winless Alabama State before rebounding to record a 73-54 win at the Petersen Evens Center.
The Panthers (2-3) return to the Pete on Tuesday to play Fairleigh Dickinson before a matchup with William & Mary on Friday night.
After a slow start that lasted for most of the first half, Pitt quickly took control after the break and turned a 34-31 halftime deficit into a 46-36 lead within the first seven minutes.
Playing without senior guard Jamarius Burton (inflammation of the knee), Pitt extended his lead to 66-41 with a 33-5 run that contained six 3-pointers. At one point, Jorge Diaz Graham, Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of just 1 minute and 35 seconds.
Diaz Graham, who scored 10 in Thursday’s 71-67 loss to VCU, gave Pitt his first lead, 37-36, since early in the game with a putback basket. That was in the middle of a 15-0 run that dramatically changed the dynamic of the game.
Blake Hinson led the Panthers with 18 points, followed by Nike Sibande with 17 from the bench. Cummings contributed 10 points and five assists, and Diaz Graham had nine points and eight rebounds.
The best news to come from Pete on Sunday was the return of center John Hugley, who missed the VCU game after suffering another – albeit minor – knee injury in Wednesday’s loss to Michigan.
Hugley came off the bench and contributed 10 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes.
Regardless of how the second half played out, a legitimate Pitt disaster appeared to be brewing in the first 15 minutes of the game as Alabama State’s lead increased to 30-18 with 5:49 remaining before halftime.
But Pitt rallied to end the half with a 13-4 run thanks to Hinson’s six points, Hugley’s five and Nate Santos’ two.
Before Pitt could synchronize his offense, however, the Hornets extended their lead with powerful shots from the ground. They hit nine of their first 18 shots (four of five from beyond the 3-point arc).
Pitt awoke from his break when Hinson netted and Hugley went to work.
He tested his knee by chasing a miss with a tip-in and completed the 3-point play with a foul shot. Then he hit the offensive gangs and hit again.
He recorded six rebounds (five offense) in the first half, but coach Jeff Capel oversaw his star’s workload. Hugley only played 9:18 of the first half.
Alabama State (0-5) will wrap up its Pittsburgh tour Wednesday night in Duquesne.