Despite both teams being shorthanded, the Pittsburgh Panthers (14-8, 5-6) and the Miami Hurricanes (11-10, 3-8) got on the board quickly; Pitt was without junior guard Ryan Murphy while Miami was without their leading scorer Chris Lykes and fellow junior guard Kameron McGusty. However, offense early in the shot clock provided both teams with good looks driving the basketball and around the rim. The result, 50% shooting from the floor for both teams going into the first media timeout.
A relative non-factor on the road against the Hurricanes last month, sophomore point guard Xavier Johnson put his early imprint on this game on both ends. He made his teams first basket of the game two steals in just under five minutes both led to points.
While things remained relatively close for the first 10 minutes of the half, Pitt ratcheted down on the defensive end. Miami was unable to find the basket from the 10:54 mark until there was 5:23 left in the half. During that stretch, the Panthers forced their opponent into three straight turnovers. However, they were unable to capitalize fully, scoring just five points during that span.
Back-to-back three-pointers by freshman guard Isaiah Wong brought Miami within four, 21-25, at the 4:50 mark, but Pitt closed the half strong. Freshman forward Justin Champagnie and sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney scored the last eight points for the Panthers that allowed them to take a 33-24 lead into the locker rooms.
The second half was a different story for both teams. The Hurricanes went on a 10-2 run after switching to a 2-3 matchup zone coming out of the first media timeout. On the other end, their opponent couldn’t buy a basket and that led to some less than inspired effort on the defensive end. A layup by senior guard Dejan Vasiljevic saw Miami take a 40-39 lead, and forced head coach Jeff Capel to take a timeout.
Capel recognized the impact the zone defense had on his team, “Their zone bothered us and how it bothered us is that it got in our heads and we stopped attacking.”
Pitt came out of the timeout a little more focused. Back-to-back triples by sophomore guard Trey McGowens gave the Panthers a little breathing room while Miami was only able to find success at the free throw line heading into the under-8 media timeout. Neither team was able to gain more than a possession advantage down the stretch.
“We have to win the last 3:54,” was Capel’s message during the last media timeout to the team.
The message was received by Johnson and McGowens. Some late game heroics by Johnson gave Pitt a late lead, and four consecutive free throws by McGowens in the closing seconds ended up being the difference. The Panthers crawled away with a 62-57 victory.
Pitt was led by a game-high 17 points by McGowens. However, the nine points and nine rebounds by Champagnie along with the 15 points and 10 rebounds by Toney proved to be the most impactful. For Toney, it was his first double-double of his career and just the second time he reached double-digits in rebounds (once last season).
As a team, the Panthers hauled in 17 offensive rebounds, which Hurricanes head coach Jim Larranaga cited as the difference in the game.
Miami was led by 16 points from junior center Rodney Miller Jr. Wong chipped in with 15 points on a very efficient 5-6 from the floor.
Pitt will travel to South Bend, IN to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-8, 4-6) on Wednesday.