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Pittsburgh surges past Wake Forest in ACC tourney opener

GREENSBORO (AP) — Justin Champagnie felt snubbed after being left off the ACC’s All-Freshman team.

So he decided to take it out on Wake Forest in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on Tuesday night, scoring a career-high 31 points to lead Pittsburgh to a 81-72 victory over the Demon Deacons.

“I felt disrespected,” Champagnie said. “I used it as motivation.”

Trey McGowens scored 14 points and Xavier Johnson added 10 points and eight assists for Pitt (16-16), the tournament’s 13th seed. Abdoul Karim Coulibaly chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Twelfth-seeded Wake Forest was led by Olivier Sarr’s 20 points and 13 rebounds. Isaiah Mucius had 19 points and Brandon Childress added 17 for the Demon Deacons (13-18).

Pitt coach Jeff Capel said he felt like his team had hit a wall down the stretch this season because they were the only ACC team that didn’t have a bye. Their bye came after the season.

He gave his players two days off late last week and told them to get away from the game completely, citing physical and emotional fatigue following a brutal ACC schedule.

“I thought Justin was one of the ones that hit the wall the hardest,” Capel said.

Champagnie said getting away helped.

“I feel like getting away from basketball sometimes is good for us as kids, so we could like regain focus on like what’s the task at hand,” Champagnie said. “So I feel like it played a big part in how we came out here and played.”

Champagnie drained 3-pointers, scored on back cuts and found ways to get to the rim.

“He’s able to shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Capel said. “He’s continuing to get better at putting the basketball on the floor. That’s the next part of his game. He can finish around the basket. That’s what he did in high school.”

The Demon Deacons led 41-40 at the half behind 17 points from Mucius, who was able to use his size and length to step out and knock down 3s over smaller defenders. But Mucius picked up his fourth foul seven minutes into the second half and had to take a seat on the bench. He was held to two points in the second half.

Still, it was nip and tuck the rest of the way with neither team leading by more than four points in the second half until Champagnie buried a 3-pointer with 3 1/2 minutes left to put the Panthers up 73-68.

Champagnie, as he had done multiple times during the game, then scored on a dunk off a baseline backdoor cut. McGowens drove and banked a shot off the glass to give Pitt its largest lead at 79-70 with 1:40 left and the Panthers clearly began to smell the victory.

“We didn’t challenge their shots,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said.

It was the final game for Childress, whose embraced his father Randolph after the game in an emotional moment.

“I can’t thank him enough,” said Childress, who talked about riding the bus with his father and watching game film before getting a home-cooked meal. “It is a bond that will never be broken.”

•••

BIG PICTURE

Pittsburgh: The Panthers shot the ball well, but will need to step up their defense if they hope to make a run in the ACC Tournament. The Panthers won one game in last year’s tournament before falling to Syracuse.

Wake Forest: Questions remain surrounding the future of Manning, who is 30-80 overall in ACC regular-season play and has never won an NCAA Tournament game in six seasons. Manning said after the game that he “absolutely” expects to be back next season as Wake Forest’s coach. “I think our team has definitely improved,” Manning added. “I think if you look at the individuals that are on our team and how they have come from where they were last year to where they’re at right now, I think without question there’s been improvement. … I definitely feel like we have taken some steps, not as many as I would like, not where I’m content with where we’re at, but I certainly feel like we have taken those steps in a direction that I want our program to go in.”

•••

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh: Advances to play fifth-seeded North Carolina State in the second round on Wednesday.

Wake Forest: Season is over.

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