Champagnie leads Pitt over Arkansas-Pine Bluff 66-41

Pittsburgh's Justin Champagnie, left, shots as Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Marquell Carter (2) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

FORT MYERS, Fla. – As the horn blew after Pittsburgh’s 72-59 win over Northwestern in the Fort Myers Tip-Off championship game on Wednesday night, Jeff Capel and Chris Collins approached each other and shared a big hug with Capel telling his former teammate, “I love you. Talk to you tomorrow.”

Capel and Collins have been dear friends since they started competing together in 1993. They not only played at Duke, they coached there before taking on jobs with Pitt and Northwestern.

On this night, it’s Capel’s Panthers (6-2) trending upward.

Tournament MVP Justin Champagnie had 21 points to lead the Panthers while Xavier Johnson joined him on the all-tournament team after he had 11 points and eight assists. Eric Hamilton added 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Pat Spencer, also named to the all-tournament team, had 18 points and Boo Buie 13 for Northwestern (3-3).

Champagnie hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half to push Pitt’s lead to 56-43 with 5½ minutes to play. The Wildcats cut the deficit back to six with just under three minutes left but a 9-0 surge, with Champagnie hitting another 3, sealed the deal. After a slow start, the Panthers made 7 of 25 treys. At one point, the Panthers were 2 of 33 behind the arc in the tournament.

“My teammates wanted to me to shoot the ball, coach wanted me to shoot the ball so I shot the ball,” Champagnie said.

Capel added, “We’re a streaky-shooting team but we’re taking good shots. I won’t take a guy out for missing shots. I will if they’re not playing hard or forcing some things.”

Capel said he feels since Collins took the Northwestern job seven years ago, he’s been with him every step of the way. And in Capel’s two years at Pitt, he feels Collins has been a sounding board.

“He’s part of my family,” Collins said. “His kids call him me uncle and my kids call him uncle.

“We’re very lucky in this profession when there’s someone you can lean on. It’s tough to go through highs and lows and difficult situations. He’s someone I can call and be vulnerable with and share my struggles, my frustrations, my goods. He’s been a great friend and hopefully I’ve been there for him.

“Now, we can go back to being each other’s cheerleaders.”

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The Wildcats had a number of good looks against Pitt but couldn’t knock them down. Pete Nance, who averaged 15 points coming into the tournament, scored just 12 in the two games. Ryan Young didn’t score Wednesday. They’re scoring is crucial.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers, who play at Louisville on Dec. 6, needed a good showing to build confidence for ACC play. Pitt has started with a win over Florida State. It now has three triumphs over Power 5 schools and have held seven teams to 61 points or less.

“I don’t know if we’ll have an easy win this season,” Capel said.

TWO-SPORT STAR

Despite not having played college basketball before this season, Spencer had 41 points, 11 assists and four 3-pointers in two games. He had 23 points, eight assists and made all three of his 3-pointers in a 78-51 win over Bradley.

His best sport is lacrosse. After earning all-American honors for four consecutive seasons at Loyola (Md.) where he finished with the all-time NCAA assists record, Spencer earned the Tewaaraton Award last year, lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

“He’s not bad,” Johnson said.

NEXT YEAR

Wisconsin, Butler, Colorado and South Florida will play in the 2020 Fort Myers Tip-Off.

Wisconsin made Final Four trips in 2014 and 2015 and Butler reached the national semifinals in 2010 and 2011.

Next season will be Year 3 of the Fort Myers Tip-Off. Boston College won the inaugural event.

UP NEXT

Northwestern will play at Boston College on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Pittsburgh will play host to Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday.

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