Justin Champagnie looking to power Pitt past Duke

NCAA Men's Basketball

It wouldn’t seem like much has changed for Pittsburgh since the first scheduled meeting with Duke this season.

But plenty has happened even though the Panthers have played just two games this month.

Pitt will have standout Justin Champagnie in the lineup when it hosts Duke on Tuesday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference game. Back in action after a knee injury, Champagnie’s return resulted in a 24-point, 16-rebound effort Saturday against Syracuse.

“He’s done a heck of a job of working, of doing everything he can to get back to this moment,” Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel said. “When you are dealing with an injury, you have to have two things. You have to have a really, really good training staff, and we have that. Then, you also have to have a really good patient, a patient that’s hungry and with Justin we have that.”

Champagnie wouldn’t have played against Duke on Dec. 29, but that game in Durham, N.C., was nixed because of Pittsburgh’s coronavirus issues.

The Panthers (7-2, 3-1 ACC) played two games across a 25-day period — both wins against Syracuse. Both victories included comebacks in the second half.

Duke (5-3, 3-1) has been idle since a Jan. 12 loss at Virginia Tech. This is the second of three consecutive road assignments for the Blue Devils.

Duke’s lineup remains in flux. Freshman Jalen Johnson (foot) returned last week after a three-game absence, but the Blue Devils were without graduate transfer Patrick Tape (back) for a third game in a row and minus freshman Henry Coleman III (non-COVID illness)

“I wish we had amazing plans (as) we are trying to learn,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of trying to get Johnson up to speed. “You try different things out, that’s what we are still trying to do.”

For Pitt, Saturday’s 96-76 defeat of the Orange saw the Panthers score 64 second-half points. Champagnie said the Panthers have bonded despite few recent games.

“I think that the main thing is that we listen,” he said. “We listen to each other.”

Champagnie provided three notable dunks in the second half.

“He’s a unique kid in the fact that he’s got great genes and that he’s been able to heal quickly,” Capel said. “He has had two tough injuries since he has been here and both times, he has been able to heal very fast. But when he’s out there … one of the biggest things is trusting it.”

Capel is a former Duke player and associate head coach. This is his third season with the Panthers and his teams are 0-2 against Duke.

Senior Ithiel Horton said the Panthers would like more continuity. The down time has been difficult.

“We work through that and we’re going to continue to work through that and get better every day,” Horton said.

Duke could use more court time as well. The Blue Devils have played the fewest games of any ACC team other than Wake Forest, which was slated for its eighth game Sunday night.

Putting all the pieces together tends to be a challenge for Duke.

“Just playing for 40 minutes, that’s the big key for us,” freshman Jeremy Roach said.

Roach posted a season-best 22 points against Virginia Tech. He’s averaging 14.6 points per game in the last five games after 5.3 per outing in the first three.

–Field Level Media

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