PITTSBURGH (AP) — The first time Nicholls State had a chance to upset a high-major opponent this season, the Colonels fell behind Illinois before coming back to force overtime.
After losing that game in the extra period, the Colonels knew what they needed to do to get a win on Saturday in a tough road environment at Pittsburgh.
"Hit them in the mouth first."
That's the message redshirt senior guard D'Angelo Hunter professed as the Colonels faced Pitt, and then he led the charge doing just that.
Hunter scored a team-high 17 points as this time it was Nicholls that raced out to a 10-point first-half lead and then held on late to upset the Panthers 75-70.
"We've been stressing these last few days to come out and try to jump on them," Colonels head coach Austin Claunch said. "The way we play, we can do that."
Pitt mounted a second-half comeback bid, but a turnover on a traveling violation by sophomore Pitt guard Au'Diese Toney with the Panthers trailing by three and 25 seconds left on the clock ended any chance of that.
The turnovers were a theme, as Nicholls jumped out to a big lead with a defense that created 21 turnovers that turned into 26 points. The Colonels supplanted that with a red-hot afternoon from 3-point range.
"They came out with great energy, great togetherness early and really just took it to us, right from the start of the game," Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said. "They had so many guys step up and make big plays, make big shots."
Hunter, a West Virginia transfer playing in his second game at Nicholls, shot 7 of 15 from the floor and 3 of 6 from 3-point range as the Colonels dominated from beyond the 3-point arc. Kevin Johnson hit 4 of 8 from long range and Jeremiah Buford came off the bench to make 2 of 4. As a team, Nicholls shot 11 of 24 from 3-point range.
"I've been preparing for a while," Hunter said. "I just finally got the opportunity. . I'm just excited to be here."
Junior college transfer Ryan Murphy was a dominant force for the Panthers. He came off the bench just over three minutes into the game and never came out. He scored a game-high 28 points on 10 of 17 from the floor and made all four of Pitt's 3-pointers, going 4 of 7 from long range while the rest of the Panthers were 0 for 9.
Nicholls State might have a hard time finding high-major sparring partners if they keep this up. The Colonels took Illinois to overtime before falling 78-70 in their season opener on Tuesday before upsetting Pitt. They'll have two more chances at big-time upsets when they visit LSU on next Saturday and West Virginia on Dec. 14.
Pitt fell victim to a classic trap game, with their afternoon battle with the Colonels coming on the heels of Wednesday night's season-opening win against ACC foe Florida State. The Panthers proved in that one they can play with anyone, but slow starts shooting have been a common thread. Pitt started 2 of 15 from the floor against the Seminoles and 3 for 15 to begin the game against Nicholls.
Nicholls State will return to Louisiana for its home opener against Paul Quinn College, an NAIA school from Dallas, on Wednesday night.
Pitt will travel across Allegheny County to play Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pa. on Tuesday to open the Colonials' new UPMC Events Center.
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