Murphy saves squandered lead, Pitt beats BC 74-72


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Ryan Murphy shoots a corner three against Boston College.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt basketball hadn’t won consecutive regular season ACC contests since February 2017, and the team appeared well on its way to extend that streak further this season. But on Wednesday night, Pitt did something it usually fails to do more often than not during conference play — finish. And in the most dramatic way possible.

After turning the ball over twice in a span of six seconds and squandering a four-point lead, junior guard Ryan Murphy’s long jumper with only four seconds remaining lifted the Panthers (13-6 overall, 4-4 ACC) to their fourth conference win of the season over Boston College (9-10 overall, 3-5 ACC), surpassing last season’s conference win total with 12 games yet to play.

Fresh off two of their strongest offensive performances, Pitt was inexplicably lethargic through the first 17 minutes of play, exemplified by slow defensive rotations. It shot 8-21 from the field and trailed by as many as 14, unable to stop the Eagles’ 55% shooting from 3-point distance.

The Panthers had no answer for the barrage of triples and neither did Boston College head coach Jim Christian, who was sarcastically short on analysis when comparing Wednesday to BC’s last two contests.

“We made shots,” Christian said. “We played against against Georgia Tech, Syracuse and we shot, I don’t know, six for 1000 … When guys make shots you look better. It’s not always rocket science.”

But a Murphy 3-pointer countered BC’s hot shooting and sparked a 9-0 run that breathed life back into an arena — and team — desperate for air.

Sophomore guard Trey McGowens gathered kindling created by the opening period’s final minutes and turned it into a fire. After posting an 0-6 shooting line in the first half, McGowens used a breakaway dunk to fuel a 12-point, three-assist second period. His teammates noticed the trademark McGowens mettle in between fits of elation following big plays.

“[McGowens] is aggressive, crazy athletic and tough to guard when he’s getting downhill,” Murphy said. “So when he gets that little dunk or something, it fuels us.”

McGowens and his teammates took turns taking over in the second half. McGowens scored six of Pitt’s first 10 points in the last half. First-year forward Justin Champagnie tallied nine points and six rebounds of his 17-point, 10-rebound double-double in the second half as well.

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson — after turning the ball over four times in the first half — 

committed only a single turnover over the final 20 minutes. He added five assists en route to the third career game with double-digit assists.

But that one turnover proved costly. Pitt’s starting backcourt turned the ball over twice inside of 30 seconds left in the second half, which helped BC erase the two-possession deficit.

For most, those turnovers and defensive lapses will be lost in the rush of Murphy’s game winner, but Pitt head coach Jeff Capel will have those final plays seared in his mind as his team prepares for their next matchup.

“We need to continue to do the things that got us a lead, namely defend at a high level,” Capel said. “When you have a lead you can’t lose guys, you can’t fall asleep staring at the ball. You can’t rest. Especially on defense. You have to come up with the rebound. And we have to work on that in practice. That’s something I have to spend a little more time on.”

He acknowledged that is a tricky line to walk in practice, balancing aggression and game physicality during the slog of conference play, but believes it’s necessary for cultivating what he calls “winning habits.”

Capel admitted it’s a work in progress, but wins like Wednesday’s help. “Finding a way” — as he put it — is hard, even in a conference that isn’t as strong as its preseason reputation would have suggested.

Half of Pitt’s conference contests have been decided by two possessions or less and the Panthers are gradually showing the necessary poise to win those games. Now comes an opportunity to showcase a different kind of winning habit.

Pitt has proven adept at overcoming adversity. But Sunday, on a rival’s court, the Panthers get a chance to prove that not only can they overcome adversity, but sustain success.

The Panthers next travel to face Syracuse for a noon tip-off from the Carrier Dome.