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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern men’s basketball thwarted by Pitt, 72-59

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There wasn’t much to be thankful for in this one.

@NUMensBball

Northwestern (3-3) missed out on its only legitimate chance to win a trophy this season Wednesday night, falling to Pitt (6-2) 72-59 in the final of the Fort Myers Tip Off.

Despite an extremely poor shooting effort from the Panthers, NU wasn’t able to capitalize on the other end. Pitt was 6-for-24 from beyond the arc (and started 1-17), but the ‘Cats only managed to shoot the ball at a 37 percent clip.

Pat Spencer led the Northwestern offense with 18 points, continuing to establish himself as the team’s best offensive weapon. The Wildcats looked lost on that end of the floor when the former lacrosse star-turned basketball player isn’t on the court. Spencer accounted for 30 percent of Northwestern’s scoring and provided an injection of energy to a sluggish team.

Boo Buie was another bright spot for NU, amassing 16 points (all in the second half) and converting all seven of his free throw attempts. No other Wildcats managed to enter double-digits in scoring.

Justin Champagnie guided Pitt on offense, overcoming a slow start to provide the Panthers with 21 points. Xavier Johnson added 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Justin Capel’s squad.

Through the first four minutes of the contest, the two teams were a combined 4-for-15 from the field. It didn’t get any prettier in the next portion of the half, as Pitt and Northwestern both found it difficult to hit shots from the field. After eight minutes, neither team had hit a three and Pitt led 9-6.

As the half went on, it became evident that shooting the ball was not going to come easy for either squad. But Pitt’s inability to score allowed Northwestern to get back in the contest. A 10-0 run for NU that was bookended by threes from Robbie Beran and Pete Nance gave the ‘Cats a 23-21 lead with a minute to go in the half. Pitt, though, closed the last minute with a four-point run, and the Panthers took a two point lead into the break.

At halftime, the shooting numbers for both teams were downright atrocious. Pitt entered the second half having gone 1-for-5 from the line and 0-for-11 from deep, and Northwestern was at 3-for-13 on three-point attempts. It wasn’t a case of the ball frequently rimming out, either. A majority of the two teams’ attempts from deep either didn’t make contact with anything or were bricked wildly.

The second half opened with a diversion from the course of the first, however, as Pitt scored seven of the first eight points of the half, and guard Ryan Murphy even hit on a three. Northwestern’s defense and the Panthers’ inability to shoot the ball kept the ‘Cats within striking distance, however, and with Spencer leading the offense, NU clawed back to within three.

That would be the closest Northwestern would get to leveling the game, though. Pitt finally found its range from three, converting on six late three-point attempts and putting the game out of NU’s reach. Despite Spencer’s best efforts, the deficit would be too much to overcome.

All the while, the game remained deeply strange. Multiple players slipped all over a floor that seemed to never be adequately dry, AJ Turner air-balled a free throw, and Pitt even got called for defensive basket interference after Ryan Young inadvertently yanked on the net.

Every Northwestern player besides Buie, Spencer, Miller Kopp (who was 3-5 for eight points) and Jared Jones (who was 2-4 for five) shot 3-23 from the field. That included a 0-10 combined performance from Anthony Gaines and AJ Turner, and an 0-1 day from Ryan Young, who was a -19 despite playing just 21 minutes.

Chris Collins’ team will get a Thanksgiving break for the rest of the week, before traveling to Newton, Massachusetts on Tuesday to face off with Boston College.