Late-game heroics push Panthers to win in key ACC matchup against No. 20 Miami


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Graduate student guard Jamarius Burton (11) avoids a Miami player during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Miami Saturday afternoon.

By Jermaine Sykes, Senior Staff Writer

After a nail-biter against Wake Forest, Pitt men’s basketball (15-7, 8-3 ACC) headed into Saturday afternoon’s bout against the Miami Hurricanes (16-5, 7-4 ACC) hoping to keep the momentum rolling. 

And they did just that. The Panthers celebrated their 03’-04’ Big East championship team in front of a sold-out crowd, then they celebrated a major 71-68 upset over No. 20 Miami.

“What an unbelievable college basketball game,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “I’m really proud of my team, we fought, we fought for 40 minutes.” 

Junior forward Blake Hinson led all scorers with 21 points, including four clutch three-pointers in the second half. Graduate student guard Jamarius Burton added 19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in the Panthers’ win.

Hinson managed to post a dominant performance, despite a slow start. The junior forward shot just 3 for 9 to start the game. Hinson credits the atmosphere in the Petersen Events Center to his second-half performance.

“The fans were great,” Hinson said. “The fans gave us the momentum, and it just makes you go out there with confidence.”

The Panthers held a heavy size advantage over the Hurricanes, whose tallest starter stood at 6-foot-7. Pitt took full advantage of this height advantage, as sophomore center Federiko Federiko came up with four blocks, tying a career-high.

The rims at the Petersen Events Center weren’t friendly for either team, as both the Panthers and Hurricanes missed multiple layup opportunities early in the game. 

Despite this, Burton and Hinson caught fire early, scoring the Panthers’ first ten points to give the Panthers a 10-9 lead.

Both teams also effectively utilized a full-court press in the first half. The Panthers battled the press and trap with good play inside to take a 15-11 lead at the halfway point in the first.

But, unlike their game against Wake Forest, the Panthers couldn’t find their three-point shot. The Panthers shot 2 for 8 from three in the first half, which halted their half-court attack.

A lack of three-pointers, turnovers and missed layups plagued the Panthers late in the first half, allowing the Hurricanes to go on a 15-2 run and take a 26-17 lead with 5:12 remaining in the half. But graduate student guard Greg Elliott ended the run with a quick three-pointer.

Still, the Hurricanes extended their lead to 11. But an 8-2 run by the Panthers, capitalized by a Hinson three-pointer at the buzzer, cut the lead to five at halftime. 

But the Panthers couldn’t find any reliable offensive sets to run coming out of halftime, allowing the Hurricanes to go on an 8-2 run to start the second half.

The Panthers needed a spark, and graduate student guard Nelly Cummings, who was scoreless in the first half, came out of the locker room with seven quick points.

But it seemed as if every time the Panthers got a bucket, the Hurricanes answered with one of their own. Hurricane sophomore guard Nigel Pack hit two back-to-back three-pointers to push their lead back to 11.

Capel opted to play without a center at the 13:08 mark in the second. The small-ball lineup was effective, causing a quick turnover, followed up by seven quick points from Burton to cut the lead to six.

The success from behind the arc returned for the Panthers in the second half, especially down the stretch, with Hinson, Burton and Elliott all connecting from deep.

But the Hurricanes maintained their lead over the next 10 minutes, increasing it to 68-60 with 2:26 left in the second half. Burton and the Panthers didn’t let it phase them, though.

“We knew we had one more round,” Burton said. “For us, we knew it was the last round, and if we wanted to win we would have to play our game.”

The Panthers’ positive attitude finally paid off down the stretch. The Petersen Events Center erupted after the Panthers went on a 9-0 run, capitalized by a Hinson putback to give the Panthers a 69-68 lead with 26 seconds remaining. Two Elliott free throws pushed the lead to three, securing the Panther win. 

An 11-0 run to end the game gave the Panthers an all-important ACC win, and more importantly a home win over a top-20 opponent to bolster their NCAA tournament resume.

Despite the recent success, tournament talks aren’t in the minds of the Capel and the Panthers.

“We don’t talk about it,” Capel said. “We just stay present, we’ll just start to focus on North Carolina.”

The Panthers continue play on the road against  North Carolina on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Fans can tune in on the ACC network.