The doubters are lining up to count out Pitt, which has been ravaged by transfers, injuries and other issues over the last year.
However, the resilient Panthers have bounced back after a pair of early-season defeats and seek their third straight win Wednesday when they host Vanderbilt in a nonconference tilt.
Pitt (2-2) prepared for the season without its top three scorers from a year ago — one moved on to the NBA and two transferred to other programs. The Panthers then lost their fourth- and fifth-leading scorers from last season due to a suspension and an ACL tear, respectively.
All of that has placed more pressure on the Panthers’ young players, like freshman Nate Santos, who rose to the occasion with 14 points and eight rebounds in Friday’s win over Towson.
John Hugley leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 16 points and eight rebounds per game, while Femi Odukale chips in 11.5 points and a team-high 3.8 assists.
“I just see us playing with more passion and more heart, all together, every day,” said swingman William Jeffress. “We know a lot of people are counting us out right now, so we’re just trying to prove everybody wrong. At the end of the day, maybe (we’re) not even trying to prove everybody else wrong, but prove ourselves right that no matter what you say or what you do, or what happens to this team, we know we have enough to win inside of our locker room.
“We trust our players we trust our coaches and everyday we’re just going to go out there and fight.”
Vanderbilt (3-1) also displayed some character recently, responding from an ugly 48-37 loss to VCU by defeating Winthrop 77-63 on Saturday. Jordan Wright (28 points) and Tyrin Lawrence (20) each set a career high in scoring as part of a strong bounce-back effort that started with, of all things, a text message.
“After the (VCU) game, I texted the guys and said, ‘Everybody refocus, regroup,'” Wright said after defeating Winthrop. “‘We’re going to get a lot of shots up, get in extra work after practice and keep our confidence — that’s the biggest thing.’ I sent the text after the game. All the guys did that, and I think it was evident tonight.”
The teams have only met once before — a Vanderbilt win in the 1988 NCAA Tournament.
–Field Level Media