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Pitt defeats Wake Forest to advance to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament

Reserve guard Ishmael Leggett scored a season-high 30 points, as the Panthers outlasted Wake Forest, 81-69, in a four vs. five matchup in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon.

Senior guard Blake Hinson added 20 points to Pitt’s cause, while the freshman guard tandem of Jaland Lowe and Bub Carrington scored 11 and nine points, respectively.

The fourth-seeded Panthers shot 48.1 percent from the floor and were a respectable nine of 23 from three-point range. Hinson led the way in that category, connecting on four of six from behind the arc. Leggett made two of six three-point tries, and reserve forward Guillermo Diaz Graham connected on two of four while scoring nine points off the bench.

Pitt, who never trailed in the game, used a 26-14 run over the final 13:46 of the first half to take a 38-26 lead into the locker room.

The Panthers built their advantage to 19 points in the second half when Lowe sunk two free throws with 13:14 remaining.

But just when it looked like Pitt would waltz into the semifinals, the Demon Deacons came storming back.

The Panthers’ offense suddenly went cold, and Wake Forest used a 26-9 run to close the gap to 65-62 with 4:16 remaining. Thankfully, Pitt regained its composure and outscored the Deacons, 16-7, to close out the game.

Leggett, the ACC Sixth Man of the Year, picked the right time to have his best game of the season. In addition to scoring 30 points in 35 minutes of action–including a perfect six for six from the free-throw line–Leggett grabbed eight rebounds and led all players with five steals.

Speaking of reserves, Pitt outscored the Demon Deacons, 39-0, off the bench.

It was the Panthers’ fourth Quad 1 victory of the season and could prove vital when the committee meets to finalize its 68-team field on Selection Sunday. Wake Forest, who, like Pitt, came into the day needing to make some noise in the ACC Tournament, was ranked 36th in the Net Rankings and Quad Wins category. The Deacon’s loss, which dropped them to 20-13 and 44th in the Net Rankings, may have effectively eliminated them from tournament consideration.

The Panthers, who moved up to 40th in the Net Rankings, won two of three over Wake Forest during the season but were blown out on the road, 91-58, in the most recent matchup on February 20.

Next up for the Panthers (22-10) is a semifinal clash against top-seeded North Carolina at the Capital One Arena at 7 p.m. on Friday.

The Tar Heels, who crushed Florida State, 92-67, in the quarterfinals on Thursday, are fourth in the latest AP poll and seventh in the Net Rankings category. Needless to say, a victory by Pitt, who lost, 70-57, in the only matchup between the two programs during the regular season, could mean the difference between making the 68-team field and just barely missing.

The bracketologists seem to think the Panthers still need one more win to get into the dance.

Again, maybe it’s better if Pitt just goes ahead and wins the ACC Tournament and leaves absolutely no doubt.


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