lair – Three-pointers: Size wins, Cummings rolls and another second-half explosion

Pitt rolled through a strong second half to log a 25-point win over Sacred Heart on Saturday. What stood out in the win?

Star of the show
Where else can the story begin? Federiko Federiko made his fifth start of the season and played his best game as a Panther, posting a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, including a remarkable 10 offensive boards. This comes after he scored a grand total of 20 points in the previous nine games, but with 27 minutes on the court – his most since the first two games of the season – Federiko delivered on Saturday.

Of course, his size advantage helped. Federiko is a full five inches taller than Sacred Heart’s tallest starter, and the impact of that disparity cannot be discounted; he’s not going to have that kind of towering presence against most teams in the ACC. But even if Saturday’s double-double was a product of the game’s circumstances rather than an expectation for his production going forward, there’s no question that Federico has played well beyond what most thought he would contribute in his first year at Pitt.

The news that Jamarius Burton would miss another game with knee inflammation meant a few things. First, of course, it meant that Pitt would not have the senior guard who has emerged as the team’s most reliable playmaker. And it also meant that fellow senior guard Nelly Cummings would be in for a long day.

Sure enough, Cummings played the first 38 minutes of Saturday’s game, never leaving the court until Jeff Capel called a timeout with 1:59 on the clock and Pitt leading by 25 points.

Without Burton, Cummings had to carry the load in the backcourt, and he responded with his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the floor. He also made 6-of-12 from three, tied his season high with six rebounds, handed out five assists, made four steals and recorded just two turnovers. Perhaps most importantly, Cummings did not commit a single foul, reflecting an awareness of how crucial it was for him to stay on the court with Burton out.

In the seven games since Pitt’s loss to VCU in the Legends Classic, Cummings is averaging 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 46.2% from the floor and 37.8% from three. It’s no coincidence that the Panthers are 6-1 in that stretch.

Another slow start
Beyond the standout performances from Federico and Cummings, Saturday was defined by a familiar theme:

Pitt started slow against an opponent from a low or mid-major conference, only to turn it on in the second half. That was the case in the Panthers’ three-straight wins over Alabama State, Fairleigh Dickinson and William & Mary, and it was the case again when they beat Sacred Heart.

On Saturday, Pitt took a five-point lead into halftime after going back-and-forth with the Pioneers for the final 12 minutes of the first half. That was reminiscent of the seven-point halftime lead Pitt held against FDU, and it wasn’t too far ahead of the halftime deficits the Panthers faced against Alabama State and William & Mary.

In each case, though, Pitt was the better team in the second half, by far. The Panthers outscored Sacred Heart 50-30 in the second half on Saturday; they also had 20-point advantages in the second half against Alabama State and W&M, while they beat FDU by 15 points after halftime.

All told, in those four games, Pitt’s statistical improvement from the first half to the second half was impressive. Here are the combined first half/second half stats from the wins over Alabama State, Fairleigh Dickinson, William & Mary and Sacred Heart

Of course, Pitt can’t keep having slow starts like that once the full ACC schedule starts at Syracuse on Dec. 20. But if the Panthers can find a way to be more like the second-half version of themselves for a full 40 minutes – which they kind of did in the win at Northwestern – then they’re going to have a chance to win some games in conference play.

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